Human Rights Watch expressed serious concern over fatal shootings by U.S. Border Patrol agents stationed along the southern borders of California and Arizona.

Three deaths in three weeks is an alarming development," said Allyson Collins, who tracks U.S. issues at Human Rights Watch. "While agents are allowed to use necessary force to protect themselves and others, there are ways to minimize the use of deadly force. Protective gear should be issued to agents who patrol border areas and agents should have better training in when to use weapons," said Collins.

One of the shootings occurred near Imperial Beach, California; another near the San Ysidro port of entry in California; and the third near San Luis in Arizona.

During the past week, there have also been non-fatal shootings by Border Patrol agents in more remote areas east of San Diego. And since early June, agents in southern Arizona reportedly have opened fire six times on border-crossers allegedly holding or throwing rocks.

Although it is not clear from news reports how long the agents involved in the fatal shootings had been on the force, Human Rights Watch expressed concern over the Border Patrol’s hiring surge in recent years; the number of agents has grown from approximately 3,400 agents in 1993 to approximately 7,700 as of August 1998. "Hiring pushes tend to overwhelm an agency’s ability to provide thorough screening, training or oversight of new recruits," said Collins.

Human Rights Watch called on the FBI, the Office of the Inspector General, the Border Patrol, and local officials to carry out thorough and prompt investigations into the fatalities and the other shootings. Since 1992, Human Rights Watch has researched human rights violations committed by U.S. Border Patrol agents and has written four reports on the subject, which are available by contacting 212-216-1832.