Border Advocates Head to D.C. to Ask Congress to Control the Border Patrol
July 12, 2012
SOUTHERN U.S. BORDER – In response to the breaking news that a federal grand jury has been called to investigate the killing of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, a coalition of more than 60 organizations across the four southern border states, issued this statement.
“This is a positive and welcome development, and an indication that the Department of Justice is taking this investigation seriously,” stated Andrea Guerrero, co-chair of the SBCC and executive director of the Equality Alliance of San Diego County. “This news comes days before SBCC representatives head to Washington, D.C. to ask Congress to open an agency-wide investigation of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security.”
Guerrero and her SBCC colleague, Mike Wilson, the policy director at the Border Action Network in Arizona, traveled with the Hernandez family to D.C. eight weeks ago seeking answers to a killing that was two years old. “The Hernandez killing is not the only abuse perpetrated by border authorities, but it is emblematic of an agency out of control and operating with virtual impunity throughout the border region,” stated Wilson. “In our meeting with Justice officials in May, it was clear that they had not yet talked to any of the witnesses in the case. We were concerned about what they were doing to preserve the evidence two years after the brutal torture and killing of Hernandez.”
In that meeting, Hernandez’ mother, Maria Luz Rojas Hernandez, pointedly asked the Justice officials what more they were waiting for, referring to the video evidence released by PBS’s Need to Know program, ” Crossing the Line at the Border” in April showing over a dozen agents surrounding her son and torturing him while he lay face down, handcuffed and hogtied on the ground. “It took seconds to kill my son, but we are still waiting after two years for a response from the government.” Her cries for justice were echoed by over 33,000 people who signed an online petition at Presente.org and by 16 members of Congress who signed a letter calling for oversight and accountability.
The next week Justice officials began contacting witnesses and have now called a grand jury to consider whether the evidence warrants a criminal prosecution. “The grand jury is one step closer to justice,” stated Vicki Gaubeca, SBCC co-chair and director of the ACLU of New Mexico’s Regional Center for Border Rights. “We hope that after seeing the video evidence and hearing witness testimony the grand jury will decide to indict and that justice will finally be served to the Hernandez family.”
“It is rare that the government decides to prosecute a border agent as we hope they will do here,” stated Krystal Gomez, an SBCC steering committee member and the advocacy and policy counsel for ACLU Texas in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Only recently did the Justice Department decline to prosecute agents in the case of 15-year-old Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca who was shot and killed in June of 2010 in the canal separating El Paso and Juarez. “Now we have another tragedy with the killing of Juan Pablo Perez Santillán, who died Saturday morning on the Mexican banks of the Rio Grande after being shot by border agents in Brownsville.”
The SBCC had previously documented nine cases of unwarranted killings or serious injuries by border authorities since 2010. With the recent killing of Santillán and another person in California, that number now climbs to 11. In none of these cases has the Justice Department called a grand jury.
“The fact that they called a grand jury is significant,” stated Christian Ramirez, SBCC program director. “If the grand jury decides to indict, it will signal to Border Patrol agents and other CBP agents, that they are not above the law.”
Next week SBCC representatives will travel to D.C. in advance of a new exposé of border abuse that will air on July 20th on PBS’ Need to Know. “We will call on Members of Congress to open an agency-wide investigation to address a culture of cruelty within CBP,” stated Guerrero. “How many people have to die, how many stories of torture and cruelty have to be told, before our government holds border agents accountable and controls the Border Patrol?.”
For more information about the SBCC and its campaign to Bring Justice Home to the southern border region, visit www.bringjusticehome.us.
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