Deaths of Unarmed Migrants Show Need for Prompt, Thorough Inquiry
June 11, 2010
The increasing number of border patrol killings make it clear that an open and thorough US investigation is needed. Any border agents found responsible for using excessive force should be held accountable.
José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch

(Washington) - The US government should conduct a prompt, thorough, and transparent investigation of the recent killings of two Mexican citizens by US border agents, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch said that the incidents, and the increasing number of episodes in which migrants are killed or wounded by border agents, raises grave concerns about possible unlawful use of lethal force.

Border control agents shot and killed Adrian Hernandez, 15, on the evening of June 7, 2010, at a railroad bridge connecting Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, with El Paso, Texas, after rock-throwing migrants confronted agents during an arrest. In a separate incident, Anastacio Hernandez Rojas died on May 31 after being shot by border control agents on May 28 with a stun gun at the San Ysidro border crossing, which separates San Diego and Tijuana.

"The increasing number of border patrol killings make it clear that an open and thorough US investigation is needed," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "Any border agents found responsible for using excessive force should be held accountable."

According to the Mexican government, the number of incidents in which Mexicans were killed or wounded by border patrol has increased significantly in the past three years. Five Mexicans were killed or wounded in 2008 by the border patrol, the Mexican government said in a June 8 news release. The total in 2009 was 12, and there have been 17 incidents already in 2010.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said in a statement that in the June 7 incident, agents encountered a group of suspected illegal immigrants entering the United States and arrested two of them. The others fled across the border and began throwing rocks at the agents. One agent fired several shots, killing Adrian Hernandez. The victim's family says that he was not involved in the rock throwing and had not crossed the border.

In the earlier incident, the San Diego police said that Hernandez Rojas, 42, attacked the border patrol agents as they prepared to return him to Mexico. One agent allegedly struck Hernandez Rojas with a baton, and then another agent shocked him with a stun gun. Hernandez Rojas stopped breathing and showed no pulse. He was taken off life support three days later. Hernandez Rojas reportedly had been in the United States since the age of 14. He had been deported after a traffic violation, returned to the United States and was rearrested on the afternoon of May 28.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that authorities shall, as far as possible, apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. The Basic Principles provide that if the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, then the authorities must use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Lethal force may be used only when strictly unavoidable to protect life. The Basic Principles also call for an effective reporting and review process, especially in cases of death and serious injury.