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Grim Anniversary of Boy’s Killing by CBP Should Prompt Reforms

Grim Anniversary of Boy’s Killing by CBP Should Prompt Reforms

A portrait of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, who was shot and killed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent in 2012, is displayed on the street where he was killed on the U.S. border in Nogales, Sonora state, Mexico, October 2019. © 2019 Moises Castillo/AP Photo

This weekend, in Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico, the family of José Antonio Elena Rodriguez will be joined by immigrants’ rights activists and community organizations to honor José Antonio and other victims of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) killings and abuse.

On October 10, 2021, José Antonio was 16 years old when a US Border Patrol Agent shot him in the back 10 times and killed him from the United States side of a chain link fence four blocks away from his home in Nogales, Mexico. This weekend’s two days of events will include a procession, workshops, and a Catholic mass.

Former Head of Internal Affairs at CBP James Tomsheck called the shooting ‘‘the most egregious’’ of any excessive-force case he’d seen at CBP and felt ‘‘angry and sickened … this was evidence of a Border Patrol agent shooting an unarmed boy.”

In the 10 years since, no one has been held accountable for José Antonio’s killing.

A federal grand jury indictment of CBP agent Lonnie Swartz resulted in a not guilty verdict. A federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of José Antonio’s mother, Araceli Rodriguez, resulted in a federal appeals court ruling that José Antonio had a constitutional right not to be shot at in Mexico from US soil. Human Rights Watch filed an amicus brief in the case. However, that ruling was subsequently contradicted by a US Supreme Court decision that made the Rodriguez family to pause their quest for justice in US courts.

Lack of accountability for CBP abuse, including abuses repeatedly documented by Human Rights Watch, is unfortunately commonplace. Since January 2010, the Southern Border Communities Coalition estimates that more than 230 people have died after an encounter with a CBP agent. No agent in the 90-year history of the agency has been convicted of a killing while on duty.

Gatherings like the one this weekend are important community events to mark an egregious violation of the human right to life and failure to protect against excessive use of force. But more must be done. The Biden administration should take urgent action to ensure people victimized by US border agents have access to justice. CBP’s reckless pattern of abuse without consequences must end.

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