As a matter of “immigration policy”, there has been increased “border security” in the United States over last couple of years. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) claims that it’s mission is to “protect the American public against terrorists and instruments of terror.” But, just as there have been a heightened number of agents serving the CBP, there have been increasing numbers of deaths under their watch.
According to a 2012 investigation collaborated by Investigative Newsource, KPBS, the Texas Observer, Need To Know magazine, and the Investigative News Network, there have ben at least “14 men and boys who have died since October 1st, 2009 after confrontations with Border Patrol agents.”
Last Saturday, a multitude of family members, residents, and supporters said “basta ya”, enough is enough, during a demonstration near the U.S.-Mexico port of entry in San Ysidro, California. Attendees included families of victims of Border Patrol brutality such as Anastacio Hernandez Rojas, Valeria ‘Munique’ Tachiquin, Carlos Lamadrid, and Jose Gutierrez, as well as community-based organizations such as Union del Barrio, Digna Ochoa Human Rights Committee, Association of Raza Educators (ARE), Comite de Derechos Humanos de El Cajon, The International Socialist Organization (ISO), The Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, Colectivo Zapatista, Frente Indigena de Organizaciones Binacionales (FIOB), Committee Against Police Brutality, Chicano Youth Leadership Camp, Escondido Human Rights Committee, Angeles Sin Fronteras, and the Human Rights Council of Oceanside.
Demonstrators carried wooden crosses in honor of those who have passed away at the border and family members carried pictures of their loved ones whose lives have been taken away by Border Patrol agents.
The longest pending investigation from the group is the death of Anastacio Hernandez Rojas, who was tasered and beat to death by Border Patrol agents in 2010. His case grew national media attention after footage of the incident was released in a PBS report that shows at least a dozen agents beating and repeatedly tasering Rojas while he was on the ground handcuffed.
Another video circulated the web where Rojas could be heard pleading for help. “Por favor, ayudenme!”, Please, help me, were some of his last words as witnesses could be heard demanding the officers to stop while questioning the use of excessive force. Anastacio suffered a heart attack and was later pronounced brain dead.
The San Diego County medical examiner ruled Anastacio’s death a homicide and the Justice Department began an “investigation”, but to this day, no one has been charged and the family has not been given the answers they’ve been looking for.
The following year, 42-year-old Jose Gutierrez was nearly beaten to death by border patrol agents. Gutierrez had been deported by the Los Angeles Immigration Court on March 21st of 2011 for being “undocumented” even though he had lived in the country since his childhood and lived in the affluent neighborhood of Woodland Hills with his wife and two children, all three of which are U.S. citizens.
With his 5-month-old baby girl in the hospital, Jose tried to reenter the country and made it to the San Luis port of entry in Arizona, where he faced Border Patrol agents and tried to run back. Border Patrol agents then tasered and beat Jose so severely that he remained in a comma for four weeks. Guitierrez had taser marks all over his chest and arms, had a tooth out of place, required brain surgery, and five parts of his skull had to be removed.
The CBP claims that Jose was “subdued” after he “attempted to flee into Mexico” and stated that “initial reports” say Gutierrez “struck his head on the ground during the incident.” While in a comatose state, Jose was under 24-hour surveillance by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) officers.
Then in September of 2012, 32-year-old Valeria Munique Tachiquin, mother of five, was gunned down by a plainclothes Border Patrol agent, Justin Tackett, while she was driving down Moss St near Oaklawn Ave in Chula Vista. The agent was serving an unrelated warrant in the area when he claims he was “hit with the vehicle and got lodged on the windshield” which is when he “discharged his weapon.”
Witnesses, on the other hand, have made statements assuring that Tackett shot “from the street” and one witness recounted seeing a “guy walking in front of the car and shooting about 12 times.” Tackett was later released from the hospital with no serious injuries.
An autopsy has ruled Tachiquin’s death a homicide and the case is under investigation by local and federal authorities. A family attorney released documents that demonstrate that 34-year-old Justin Tackett was “suspended four times” for “misconduct” and “violating suspects’ rights” in the four years he served with the Imperial County sheriff department, prior to working for the Border Patrol.
During the demonstration last Saturday, speakers shared their stories on Border Patrol brutality and asserted that they are fighting a human rights issue.
“We’re all here to support a basic premise that we all should have and cherish, the basic human right to life,” explained one of the speakers, “that no public official, that no uniformed officer should live with the luxury of being able to pull the trigger and take someone’s daddy away, take someone’s mommy away, hurt someone to the point where they can’t have the life that they used to have!”
Families of victims are frustrated over the lack of transparency from the CBP and its “investigations”.
“We have no truth, we have no answers – we get the runaround, that’s what we get,” described Jose Gutierrez’s wife Shena, “what am I supposed to tell my daughter - my son who is also four years old with autism and epilepsy. What am I supposed to tell them when daddy starts seizing after what happened to him?"
“The kids are the one who suffer the most,” stated Anastacio’s devastated widow, Maria, “they ask, ‘Why did they do that to daddy?’ Enough is enough. I think these agents are standing around working here today. I want them to hear me and know that they caused a lot of harm to this family. They destroyed a family.”
“You’re no gods, you’re just another human being who can commit an error in life, own up to it!” demanded Valeria Tachiquin’s father, Valentin. “Don’t hide behind your badge! Don’t hide behind your uniform! We need justice!” continued Valentin as he asked the crowd to count to nine out loud to represent the number of times his daughter was shot.
Hugo Castro from Angeles Sin Fronteras, a Mexicali based organization that offers shelter, food, clothes, and protection to migrants and deportees, affirms that the border enforcement agencies’ policies account for the increasing number of migrant deaths.
“Its enough with these injustices and the hypocrisy that we’re living here in the United States,” stated Castro, “on one side, were are supposedly defending the liberty for equality and justice all over the world – but on the other hand, here we are suffering firsthand the massacre and genocide of our people. There have been more than 10,000 deaths now since Operation Gatekeeper.”
Operation Gatekeeper was passed in 1994 by the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP), then part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), to “stem the tide of illegal immigration”, particularly near the San Diego, California region. Also known by some locals as “Operacion Muerte”, or Operation Death, the measure allowed funding for new border “fences”, an increase in border patrol agents, and the latest in military hardware such as stadium-style lighting, night vision equipment, and seismic sensors that would allow 24-hour surveillance of the San Diego-Tijuana division.
The measure was a virtual militarization of a large stretch of the southern U.S. border and has led migrants to cross through extremely dangerous, remote desert and mountainous areas where they are subject to extreme temperatures. In 2012 alone, the CBP reported 463 deaths long the southwest border with 70% of them coming form the Tucson and Rio Grande Valley sectors.
Since Operation Gatekeeper, budget for heightened “border security” has increased over the years. The Customs and Border Protection (CBP), now an agency under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), boasts that it’s “better staffed today than at any time in its 88-year history.” Just along the U.S. southwest border, the DHS has increased the number of agents from “approximately 9,100 Border Patrol agents in 2001 to more than 18,500 today.” The DHS also works closely with state and local law enforcement along the U.S. borders while “conducting joint operations, providing the latest intelligence, and coordinating operational priorities.”
Most of the families present at Saturday’s demonstration will be traveling to Washington D.C. alongside other members of border communities and human rights advocates to hold a press conference in what is being recognized as “Border Advocacy Day.” They plan to share their realities of border life and demand accountability on behalf of the CBP as well as oversight and transparency into pending investigations.
The press conference is scheduled for 12:30 P.M. at the House Triangle in Washington D.C. tomorrow.