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2014-02-20

Excessive Force? Migrant Shot Dead by U.S. Border Agent Near San Diego After Throwing Rock

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While the United States, Mexico and Canada held a major summit in Mexico on Wednesday, U.S. border policies are back in the spotlight after a U.S. Border Patrol agent shot and killed a man near San Diego, California, on Tuesday. Officials said the agent was pursuing a group of people suspected of crossing the border from Mexico. When a man threw a rock at him, the agent opened fire and killed him. The agent suffered minor injuries and declined hospital care. The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general recently found U.S. border agents have been involved in 20 fatalities since 2010, eight of which — that’s nearly half — involved rock throwing. For more, we’re joined by John Carlos Frey, an investigative reporter who has long reported on immigration, and more recently on killings of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Folk music legend Odetta on September 11th, 2002, singing at our old firehouse studios marking the exact time that United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, while the United States, Mexico and Canada held a major summit in Mexico on Wednesday, U.S. border policies are back in the spotlight after a U.S. Border Patrol agent shot and killed a man near San Diego, California, on Tuesday. Officials said the agent was pursuing a group of people suspected of crossing the border from Mexico. When a man threw a rock at him, the agent opened fire and killed him. The agent suffered minor injuries and declined hospital care.

AMY GOODMAN: A September report released by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general showed U.S. border agents have been involved in 20 fatalities since 2010, eight of which—that’s nearly half—involved rock throwing. An uncensored copy of the report, obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting, showed it featured a recommendation from a think tank that agents use restraint when dealing with rock throwers. But in the copy that was publicly released, that recommendation was blacked out.

Well, for more, we’re joined by John Carlos Frey, an investigative reporter who has long reported on immigration, and more recently on killings of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. His work is supported by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, John. Talk about what happened, the killing on the border.

JOHN CARLOS FREY: The most recent report that I’ve read and the report that comes out of those that are investigating in the sheriff’s department in the area say that a Border Patrol agent was in pursuit of a migrant, separated from his partner. He was by himself. The suspected migrant started throwing rocks. There’s even an allegation that he threw a basketball-sized rock towards the agent—I’m not quite sure how you can do that. And the agent opened fire, fired twice, striking the migrant and killing him. And this seems to be a pattern. Obviously, the migrant’s not going to be able to speak up for himself as to what happened. But agents are allowed to use deadly force when being confronted with rock throwing. And that seems to be what happened here.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how is the Border Patrol justifying its rejection of a recommendation of its own inspector general on its policies for shootings of unarmed migrants?

JOHN CARLOS FREY: If you take a look at the recommendations, they’re actually quite sane. PERF, which is the think tank, the Police Executive Research Forum, it’s a group of law enforcement officers, professionals, who recommended to U.S. Border Patrol agents not necessarily to take away any sort of use of force when confronted with rock throwers, but to tamp it down, to de-escalate the situation, to move from the area, to actually physically move from the region where rocks are being thrown, or to take cover or to use nonlethal force. Those were the recommendations by PERF, and Border Patrol decided to deny all of those. They would like to still be able to use deadly force.

They claim in the past 10 years there have been about 6,000 confrontations with rock throwers. But there never has been an agent killed by rock throwers, so the use of deadly force seems a bit excessive, if agents themselves have never been killed by rocks. If you go to any major law enforcement agency in the country, in the United States, killing or shooting rock throwers, using guns to shoot rock throwers, would be forbidden by police agencies across the country. So it’s interesting that Border Patrol claim that it’s a necessity for them.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting also that this is taking place against the backdrop of the Tres Amigos summit in Mexico with Canadian, Mexican and American leaders. The three North American leaders expected to announce an easing of border controls for corporate executives, and yet at the same time you have this killing of a migrant on the border. John Carlos?

JOHN CARLOS FREY: Yeah, it’s interesting also, too, the circumstances under which these happen. I’m not denying that Border Patrol agents have a dangerous job and that they need to at times possibly use their weapons, but it always seems when the conditions or when the details are suspicious, Border Patrol agents can claim rock throwing, rock throwing in any circumstances. I’m actually in Tucson right now taking a deeper look into a 16-year-old who was killed about a year and a half ago, shot 10 times in the back by a Border Patrol agent for allegedly throwing rocks. And if you go to the area where this young man was killed, it’s next to impossible for him to have been able to throw a rock. He would have had to have thrown it through an almost impenetrable border fence.

So, you know, these claims of rock throwing and being able to fire weapons are not policies that the United States actually supports in other zones around the world. Israel and Palestine, we’ve brokered deals between those two countries where Israeli troops are asked to fire rubber bullets as opposed to lethal weapons. So, we’re not really abiding by our own policies across the globe, but for some reason we can do that here at the United States-Mexico border.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you, this summit, the impact in Mexico and on the government of Enrique Peña Nieto, that—the failure to move immigration reform here in the United States, what impact that’s having in Mexico?

JOHN CARLOS FREY: I think it’s—you know, we expect Mexico to be our partner. We expect Mexico to be a friend and a neighbor, our third-largest trading partner. But there seems to be a push against Mexicans themselves coming to the United States. I hate to sort of claim racial bias here, but I believe that if immigration reform was about a different country or a different group of people, we might be able to move it forward. There really is sort of a bias against Spanish-speaking or brown people coming to the United States. There seems to be a xenophobia or a perceived threat that these people are going to be taking over with their culture, with their language. So, especially along the Southwest is where I see it the most. We have a fortified militarized zone here, where we have drones flying over. We have 700 to 800 miles of border fence. We have a military-style equipment and footing where we’re actually now shooting people actually in Mexico, shooting across the border. So there’s this real perceived pushback against Mexico. And I think trying to find a way to alleviate this less-than-neighborly policy is where we really need to start, before immigration reform is even a possibility. If Mexico is considered criminal, it’s going to be really difficult for Congress to even grant any sort of legal status.

AMY GOODMAN: John Carlos Frey, we want to thank you for being with us and for all your work as an investigative reporter who has long reported on immigration, and more recently on the killings of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Thanks so much for being with us—

JOHN CARLOS FREY: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: —joining us from Tucson.

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