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Violence Against Border Agents Declines Despite War Rhetoric

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Despite some politicians characterizing the U.S. side of the border as a war zone, statistics released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection show that assaults against CBP agents and officers decreased by 13 percent last year.

The number of incidents including shooting, vehicle and physical assaults declined from 1,405 incidents in 2009 to 1,217 in 2010. These numbers are for both the northern and southern international borders. But 94 percent of the reported incidents occurred on the southern border.

The statistics taken from three years worth (2008-2010) of Borderstat Violence reports by U.S. Customs and Border Protection show a reality that is contrary to much of the political rhetoric we’re hearing. Just two weeks ago, Todd Staples, the Texas Ag Commissioner, released a report written by two retired military generals proposing that U.S. border counties become “sanitary tactical zones” in a war against the “narco-terrorists.”

But looking at the government’s own statistics it appears that assaults have actually gone down against border agents, which doesn’t jibe with the war zone rhetoric we’ve been hearing.

That doesn’t mean the border isn’t dangerous though. The number of deaths perpetrated by border agents against civilians increased by 150 percent in 2010.

In 2010, 5 people were killed by border agents and 8 people were wounded. While in 2009, 2 people were killed and 11 people wounded. In 2008, 1 person was killed and 6 people wounded.

One case that made international headlines in 2010, involved Jesus Mesa, Jr. a U.S. border agent who fatally shot a 15-year old boy from Juarez. The family of Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, brought a suit against Mesa for wrongful death. The case was dismissed by a U.S. Federal judge in August because the boy was shot on Mexican territory, and there are no statutes that would apply in suing the U.S. government.

U.S. border agents have also been killed pursuing drug traffickers along the southern border since 2008. There have been three drug trafficking-related deaths in the past three years: Brian Terry in 2010, Robert Rosas in 2009 and Luis Aguilar in 2008. (These reports don’t include the two ICE agents, one of which was fatally wounded in Mexico in February 2011.)

While Mexico is undeniably battling a surge in organized crime, U.S. border cities report some of the lowest crime rates in the nation. Despite this fact, politicians like Commissioner Staples continue to beat the war drums to further their own political agendas. No wonder it’s got officials who represent the border such as U.S. Rep Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo,  and U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso exasperated with the military rhetoric coming out of Austin and Washington D.C.

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. Melissa is a 2014-15 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.