12 years . . .

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_ We highly recommend reading this article on excessive, invasive surveillance technologies deployed in the U.S.-Mexico border; don’t kid yourselves, if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere in the United States (while you’re at it, please consider subscribing to The Border Chronicle).

_SBCC joined nearly 140 organizations on a Human Rights Watch-led letter that denounces the Biden administration for expanding the unlawful Title 42 expulsions to include Venezuelans; the United States needs to honor its promises, and uphold its legal and moral obligations to people seeking protection.

_SBCC steering committee member Pedro Rios of American Friends Service Committee notes the resounding public backlash against Border Patrol building two 30-foot walls in Friendship Park, San Diego; we hope DHS scraps any plans for more walls and takes heed to the recommendation that — at a bare minimum — Border Patrol install a gate through which families separated by U.S. immigration policies can at least connect. 

_Meanwhile a binational park is planned between Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico; how cool is that?

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_12 years . . . It has been 12 years of mourning and waiting for justice. And we’re hoping that a family can finally find some closure. This week, Maria Puga, the widow of Anastasio Hernández Rojas — who was was brutally murdered in May 2010 by US border agents in front of multiple witnesses — and the attorneys representing the family were in Mexico City to elevate Anastasio’s landmark case and hearing that will be convened by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on November 4. At the hearing, the IACHR will consider whether United States law enforcement officials killed Anastasio (¡presente!), orchestrated a cover up, and denied the family justice. This emblematic case is the first involving a killing by U.S. law enforcement to be opened by the IACHR and will set a precedent for those that follow.

The U.S. government asked the IACHR to close the hearing to the public, but the family has insisted on a public hearing. In the words of Maria, “They killed Anastasio in public, they should answer for it in public.”  More than 200 organizations joined Anastasio’s family in urging the IACHR to keep the hearing open to the public, because the case is of enormous public interest. We recently learned that the IACHR has decided to proceed with a public hearing on November 4, 1 p.m. Pacific/4 pm. Eastern.

We know that Anastasio died at the hands of border agents in 2010. In March 2016, his family filed a petition with the IACHR against the U.S. government for failing to properly investigate and prosecute the case, despite eyewitness evidence and clear obstruction of justice on the part of authorities. In a decision issued on July 28, 2020, the IACHR established that the family demonstrated prima facie human rights violations linked to Anastasio’s torture and death.

At the hearing, Anastasio’s family will underscore its request that the IACHR find that the United States violated their human rights and will request among other things, (1) a public apology, (2) the reopening of Anastasio’s murder investigation, and (3) reforms to current policies to end systemic abuse, beginning with Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the nation’s largest law enforcement agency.

In addition, the family asks the IACHR to examine the use of force standard in the United States, which is based on "reasonableness" instead of the international standard of "necessary and proportionally". The family is also asking IACHR to examine obstruction of justice allegations. International law requires investigations to be both independent and impartial — which are two critically important factors absent in investigations into lethal use of force cases involving border agents.  In Anastasio’s case, prosecutors conducted secret proceedings with a grand jury, deliberated without them, and only informed the family of their decision not to press charges, for which the petitioners allege that the United States violated its international human rights obligations.

According to Roxanna Altholz, co-director of the International Human Rights Legal Clinic at UC Berkeley and lawyer on the case, "the torture and murder of Anastasio Hernández Rojas was due to a whole system that fosters violence and impunity on the part of Border Patrol officers in communities in the southern United States. Without the support and consent of these structures, it would not have been possible for 17 officers to torture one person in public, in front of dozens of witnesses, without consequence.”

For her part, María Puga, Anastasio’s widow and petitioner in the case, recounted how “in 2010, United States Border Patrol agents took the life of Anastasio, the love of my life and the father of our five children. The officers involved never faced consequences. For the last 12 years, my family has fought for justice.” She assured that, to achieve justice in the case, a fair and transparent investigation must be carried out; that agents responsible for Anastasio’s murder must apologize, and that the United States government must change the policies that allow violence and impunity. “We want no other family to have to go through the pain, suffering and anguish that we have had to experience”, she concluded.

During his remarks, Carlos González Gutiérrez, Consul General of Mexico in San Diego, assured that, since the case became known, the Mexican government has been involved at the highest level, following up on the investigation and providing the necessary legal assistance. “Both Mexico and the US are countries governed by plural and democratic systems. In this context, we have welcomed the admission of the case to a mechanism that could review it from an autonomous and independent perspective. Let this tragic event serve to remind us that the excessive use of force towards any person is not acceptable in any context and under any circumstances, regardless of any condition, such as nationality or immigration status. I would like to reiterate that the defense of the rights of Mexicans abroad is the highest priority of our government”, he added.

Andrea Guerrero, executive director of Alliance San Diego and attorney in the case, reported that the hearing that the IACHR will hold on November 4 will determine whether the murder, cover-up, and denial of justice for Anastasio’s family were human rights violations. “Anastasio's case could mark a turning point in Border Patrol’s long history of abuse and cover-up. Justice does not happen behind closed doors, it happens in broad daylight. This year, when you celebrate Día de Muertos, remember Anastasio. He knew that we all deserve dignity and respect. We will not rest until Anastasio’s name is synonymous with justice”, she concluded. We’re hoping that justice delayed will not mean justice denied. Justice at last?

View the IACHR hearing online here on Nov. 4, at 1 p.m.Pacific/4 p.m. Eastern.


border_lines is published every other Friday for your reading pleasure. If you’d like to submit an item for inclusion, please email Kendall Martin at [email protected] , by Wednesday COB. The Southern Border Communities Coalition is a program of Alliance San Diego.


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