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U.S. and Mexican relations strain over death involving border patrol

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The Mexican government and the FBI are at odds over who was responsible for a death that followed a pair of shootings involving US border patrol agents.

Mexican authorities have claimed the death was caused by the border patrol, which it accused of using an unnecessary level of force in the incidents.

The border patrol would only say that its agents in the Rio Grande Valley sector were involved in “two dangerous encounters” on Saturday morning, but did not accept responsibility for the dead Mexican.

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The agency said in a statement: “In one encounter, an individual began throwing rocks at a border patrol agent. When the agent was unable to take cover, he fired his service weapon in defense. At approximately the same time, another nearby agent observed a person aiming a weapon at him and fired his service weapon in defense.”

The border patrol added the Mexican government was notified of both incidents and said several subjects are in custody. The exact number of detainees and their charges remain unknown.

Rodolfo Quilatan Arenas, the Mexican consul in Brownsville, Texas said on Saturday that his country’s foreign ministry had confirmed the death of an underage male. The following day the Mexican government issued a statement claiming a Mexican citizen was killed by a single shot fired by a US border patrol agent near the Tomates-Veterans border crossing in Matamoros, over the river from Brownsville.

“The Mexican government has reiterated that the disproportionate use of lethal force in immigration control is unacceptable under any circumstances,” Mexico’s foreign relations ministry said in a news release. Mexican officials called for transparency and a thorough investigation.

The border patrol has disputed the claim that the dead individual was a minor and says the circumstances that led to his death have yet to be determined.

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Bill Brooks, the border patrol’s southwest border field branch chief, said in an email to the Guardian: “We have been told by Mexican officials that a deceased person, aged 29, was brought to the Matamoros hospital some time after the shooting incident. We do not know if that person was involved in this incident.”

If the Mexican male’s death is confirmed to have been the result of a US border patrol shooting, it will mark the ninth reported killing of a Mexican citizen on the border in the last two years.

None of the eight incidents have proceeded to trial, which has led critics to argue that the border patrol – which under president George W Bush expanded its ranks by over 8,000 agents in under two years, while relaxing admittance standards – lacks accountability and transparency.

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A PBS documentary released in May this year revealed video and audio recordings of border patrol agents beating and Tasing of a handcuffed Mexican immigrant, Anastasio Hernández-Rojas, in California. The beating ultimately led to Hernández’s death.

The shooting death of 15-year-old Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca in 2010 by a US border patrol agent heightened to tensions between the governments of the United States and Mexico.

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Border authorities claimed the boy had thrown rocks at agents from the Mexican side of the border and the shooting was an act of self-defense. Agents are generally permitted to use deadly force when rocks are thrown and say they are subjected to hundreds of rock attacks each year. Witnesses disputed the Americans’ version of the events and in January 2011 the boy’s family sued the US government for $25m.

In May, Representative Silvestre Reyes, a member of the Hispanic Caucus and a 26-year veteran of the border patrol, wrote a letter to attorney general Eric Holder, noting that high-profile deaths on the border, such as those of Hernández-Rojas and Hernandez Guereca, have “left many doubts about the judicial process in the communities where these deaths have occurred.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012

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