Early on the morning of July 9, A U.S. Border Patrol agent fatally shot Juan Pablo Perez Santillan in Mexico. The 30-year-old was standing on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros just across from Brownsville.
Border Patrol says the agent fired in self-defense. At a press conference after the shooting, agency spokesperson Enrique Mendiola said two agents opened fire in separate incidents around the same time that morning. A group of Mexicans, trying to cross the river, pelted the agents with rocks, he said, while in the other incident a man allegedly flashed a gun on the Mexican side of the river. Witnesses in Mexico say Perez Santillan was unarmed.
The Mexican Foreign Ministry denounced Perez’s death as a disproportionate use of force. Both countries say the shooting is being investigated, but it’s doubtful anything will come of it. In June 2010, 15-year-old Sergio Hernandez-Guereca was killed in Mexico by a U.S. Border Patrol agent standing in El Paso. The boy’s parents filed a wrongful death suit in U.S. court, but it was dismissed. The federal judge said the family had no standing because Hernandez-Guereca was killed on Mexican soil. Incensed by the ruling, the Chihuahuan state government issued a warrant for the Border Patrol agent’s arrest. But the warrant is largely viewed as symbolic, since the chances of extradition are next to none.
Deaths like these are on the rise. The Perez Santillan case is the fourth time a U.S. border agent has killed someone on Mexican soil in the last two years. Ramses Torres, 17, was shot in Nogales, Sonora, in 2011, and Jose Yañez Reyes was killed that same year in Tijuana.
Undeterred by the setback in the El Paso ruling, Juan Pablo Perez Santillan’s family filed a civil suit in U.S. court in late July. “What happened is a terrible tragedy,” said Brownsville civil rights lawyer Ed Stapleton, who filed the suit for the family. “Arguing this case is going to be an uphill battle, but it’s important to keep developing it as a legal issue.”
The case probably won’t be heard any time soon, however. In early August, Stapleton’s suit on behalf of the family was rescinded, and he was replaced by Austin-based attorney Marc Rosenthal. Rosenthal has yet to re-file the suit.