Friday, June 24, 2011

Human rights groups urge Congress to investigate Border Patrol's use of deadly force

Lawmakers are asked to look into a policy that allows agents to shoot at rock throwers along the U.S.-Mexico border. The ACLU and others argue that the practice is inhumane.

Border Patrol killing
Investigators examine the scene where a U.S. Border Patrol agent fatally shot a Tijuana man who was throwing rocks. Agents are usually cleared of wrongdoing in such incidents. (Alejandro Cossio / Associated Press / June 21, 2011)

A coalition of immigrant and human rights groups Friday urged Congress to investigate the Border Patrol's use of deadly force against rock throwers along the U.S.-Mexico border, saying the frequency of such confrontations is disturbing and inhumane.

The request came three days after an agent in San Diego fatally shot a 40-year-old Tijuana man suspected of injuring an agent by throwing rocks and a nail-studded wooden board.

Such incidents typically lead to demands for congressional scrutiny, but Congress in recent years has not taken up the issue. The letter, addressed to congressional committees, was signed by 65 national and regional groups, including the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties and Amnesty International.

Although confrontations between agents and smugglers have declined substantially in recent years, rock throwing is not uncommon in many urban areas where trafficking groups use aggressive tactics to prevent agents from arresting illegal immigrants.

Last year, agents in El Paso killed a teenage boy who was reportedly throwing rocks at them. Other alleged rock throwers were killed in the Arizona towns of Nogales and Douglas within the last year, according to the ACLU.

Agents involved in fatal shooting incidents are usually cleared of wrongdoing by local and federal authorities. The agency has said deadly force is justifiable because rocks and other objects can cause disabling and sometimes fatal injuries. Numerous agents have been hospitalized over the years because of head wounds, authorities said.

Critics argue that countering rocks with bullets amounts to an unacceptable and disproportionate use of force and should be stopped.

"Deadly force should always be an action of last resort and only used if an imminent risk of death is present … to shoot stone throwers is exceptionally disproportionate and inhumane," the letter states.

Authorities declined to comment on the investigation into this week's shooting. A leading Tijuana newspaper, Frontera, provided some details about the victim, reporting that he had been caught trying to cross the border 17 times since the 1990s. Citing official sources, the newspaper reported that the man worked as a mechanic and was also suspected of being a human smuggler.

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