U.S. Border Patrol agents have killed 42 people since 2005, including 13 Americans, but the agency in charge of policing the southern border won’t say why, or what happened to the agents who carried out the killings — if anything.
The numbers of dead may actually be higher, but the stone wall of silence enforced by Customs and Border Protection officials prevents the public from assessing the true human cost of guarding the U.S.-Mexican border.
The Arizona Republic newspaper carried out a major investigation of border killing cases, revealing its findings on Sunday. The paper ran up against an iron curtain of secrecy, as CPB agents would not even discuss the agency’s policy regarding use of deadly force, much less actual cases.
Even though many of the killings came under what the Republic’s reporters characterized as “highly questionable” circumstances, the agency flatly refused to say whether the agents involved in killings were disciplined.
In one case last year, Border Patrol agents gunned down a 16-year-old boy who witnesses say was simply walking down the street in his hometown of Nogales, Sonora, just south of the border fence that divides the U.S. from Mexico.
Agents fired at Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez (pictured) through the fence, shooting him 10 times in the head and in the back on Oct. 10, 2012. Their official story, contradicted by witnesses who say the teen was doing nothing but walking to a nearby convenience store, was that he was throwing rocks at agents over the fence.
Even though agents are rarely injured in such rock-throwing incidents, the Republic reporters found that the border patrol considers them “deadly,” justifying use of lethal force in response.
The paper gathered its information on the Elena Rodriguez killing and other incidents from police in Sonora, Mexico. U.S. officials kept a tight lid on information about the killings. According to Sonora police cited by the paper’s report, one agent alone blasted 14 hollow-point rounds through the protective border fence at the boy.
The Border Patrol initially issued a statement saying that its agents shouted commands across the border which were ignored by alleged rock-throwers. But witnesses that night reported hearing no shouts or commands before the agent or agents — the Border Patrol won’t say whether more than one agent opened fire — started shooting.
Rock-throwing incidents are common along the border, the Republic found, usually used to distract agents from the activities of smugglers trying to cross into the United States. In the vast majority of “rockings,” agents respond with restraint and very rarely with live gunfire.
In 160 cross-border rock throwing incidents since 2010 studied by the Republic reporters, only two agents incurred injuries and none died.
Why Elena Rodriguez was slain in a hail of hollow-point bullets remains unexplained.