U.S.-Mexico border
(MCC Photo/Silas Crews)

Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales.

On April 12th of this year, approximately 40 people gathered around a white metal cross in Nogales, Mexico, close to the U.S. border fence. Eighteen months earlier, a 16-year-old boy named José Antonio Elena Rodriguez was killed by U.S. Border Patrol in that spot, the cross erected in his honor. 

Rodriquez was walking to meet his brother late one night in October 2013. He was shot multiple times through the fence by the U.S. Border Patrol, mostly in the back. Border Patrol claims he was throwing rocks, though witnesses on the Mexican side of the fence say he was just walking down the street when the Border Patrol opened fire. No one has been charged for his death, and the name of the agent responsible has not been released.

Colectivo Justicia Fronteriza (which includes a partner of MCC Mexico) reached out to Rodriquez’s family soon after the incident. They have a close relationship with Rodriquez’s mother, Araceli Rodriquez, and have played a key role in organizing vigils every six months to remember Rodriquez and demand justice.

Unfortunately, Rodriguez’s death is not an isolated incident. More than forty people have been killed by Border Patrol officers since 2005, eight of whom were shot through the U.S.-Mexico border fence, allegedly for throwing rocks. There has been increasing concern about the lack of transparency and accountability of the Border Patrol when such incidents occur. Last December, an investigation by The Arizona Republic found that, of 42 use-of-force deaths, not a single agent was known to have faced any discipline or consequences.

The lack of accountability extends beyond lethal force. The American Immigration Council looked into 809 complaints of excessive force and found that 97 percent led to “no action.”

Public scrutiny over the Border Patrol’s excessive use of force and lack of accountability has increased significantly in recent months. In March of this year, the Los Angeles Times leaked an internal review of Border Patrol use-of-force incidents, which found that agents intentionally stepped in front of moving cars to justify shooting at them and shot at rock throwers out of frustration.

The new Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, has ordered a review of the immigration enforcement system to make sure migrants are treated humanely. This step is encouraging, because while some people prefer to blame “bad apples” for the abuses, it appears to be a much deeper, systemic issue. 

Additionally, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the U.S. Congress in March to address some of these issues. The Border Enforcement, Accountability, Oversight, and Community Engagement Act (H.R. 4303) would increase transparency, opportunities for community input, and training for Border Patrol officers. 

There seems to be momentum for change building throughout border communities and across the United States. MCC, working on both sides of the border, is exploring ways to amplify Colectivo Justicia Fronteriza’s advocacy work for justice in the name of José Antonio Elena Rodriquez.

We are calling on Border Patrol to treat migrants humanely and take responsibility for their actions. In the spirit of peace, we hope to push back against border militarization and institutional violence.

Printed with permission from Third Way Café.