Deaths Mount at the Hands of U.S. Border Agents

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As elected officials politick for more “Boots on the Ground” they should pay closer attention to who fills those boots. Two people died in the past two weeks at the hands of U.S. border agents.

On May 31, Anastasio Hernandez was reportedly tasered and beaten to death by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents on the Tijuana-San Diego border. A U.S. coroner has ruled his death a homicide.

Yesterday, 14-year old Sergio Adrian Hernandez Huereca, was shot and killed underneath an international bridge linking El Paso to Juarez. Mexican witnesses reported to El Diario de Juarez newspaper, the victim and three other boys were throwing mud and had crossed into the U.S. side of the dry river bed but then ran back to the Mexican side of the dry culvert when they saw border patrol agents.

The boy peeked out from behind a cement bridge column and the U.S. border agent allegedly shot the boy in the head. The incident is under investigation by the FBI.

Reports of the incident in U.S. media say the federal agent was “assaulted” but they don’t define the assault. It also appears from Mexican media reports that the agent shot the boy on Mexican soil.

Another Mexican man was killed on January 4, 2010, in Southern Arizona after he threw rocks at a Border Patrol agent.

Two U.S. Border Patrol agents lost their lives in violent incidents on the border: one in 2008 and another in 2009. None have been killed in 2010, according to the Department of Homeland Security Web site, which lists deaths of DHS employees.

In its push to double the number of Border Patrol agents and increase CBP agents, the Department of Homeland Security has (at times) waived the high school diploma requirement and even put agents to work before they finished their training. This coupled with a growing attrition rate in a highly charged political and emotional climate is wreaking havoc on border residents.

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 authorized the hiring of an additional 10,000 agents. This authorization doubled the number of Border Patrol agents from 11,000 to 20,000 agents.

Violent crimes are down in U.S. border cities and the number of undocumented people in the United States has declined from an estimated 12 million to 10.6 million.

Nevertheless, we have politicians asking for more agents “to secure the border” but paying little attention to the training, backgrounds or quality of  those border agents. Nor have they concentrated enough on the high attrition rates for agents and psychological stresses of working along the southern border.

T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, predicted disaster back in 2008 as the federal government cast its net wide for anyone who would join the Border Patrol to fill the government quota.

“Quite frankly, no law-enforcement agency is capable of absorbing that many people in such a short period of time,” he told the Tucson Weekly. “They’ve lowered the standards both in background checks and in training–and it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.