Aiming for Justice

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_On Oct. 10, 2012, José Antonio Elena Rodríguez was 16 years old when a Border Patrol agent fatally shot him in the back 10 times from the U.S. side of a steel bollard wall near his home in Nogales, Mexico; in the 10 years since his killing, not a single agent has been held accountable for killing someone while on duty.

_Is it hypocritical that migrants are being lured to help with cleanup of Hurricane Ian in Florida just weeks after Gov DeSantis tricked migrants into taking a flight to Martha’s Vineyard?

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_Aiming for Justice. The Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the investigative arm of the Organization of American States, will hold a hearing to determine whether United States law enforcement officials (i.e., U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials) used the power of the state to kill Anastasio Hernández Rojas, cover it up, and deny the family access to justice. The hearing is set for Nov. 4 at 4pm ET and will be broadcast live.

This will be the first-ever extrajudicial killing by the United States that the IACHR has taken up for review. In a decision issued on July 28, 2020, the IACHR established that the family demonstrated prima facie human rights violations linked to the torture and killing of Anastasio. The Hernández Rojas family alleges that the actions of the United States are part of a larger system of abuse and impunity that has claimed hundreds of lives since Anastasio was killed — especially the lives of Mexican immigrants and people of color living and traveling in the border region — and that these violate international human rights obligations. 

As part of its review, the IACHR is asked to examine the use-of-force standard in the United States, which is based on ‘reasonableness’ rather than the international human rights standard of ‘necessary and proportionate.’ In Anastasio’s case, prosecutors determined that the actions of border agents who beat, tasered, and killed him while he was handcuffed and lying face down on the ground, was reasonable. It was anything but reasonable. Moreover, given that Anastasio was in custody surrounded by over a dozen agents, the violence that took his life was neither necessary nor proportionate. If the IACHR rules favorably in this case, it could mark a turning point for human rights protections and pave the way for reforms to the use-of-force standard in the United States. 

In the November 4th hearing, Anastasio’s family will present the testimony of Maria Puga, the widow of Anastasio, as well as James Tomsheck, the former head of CBP Internal Affairs, one of four high-ranking government officials to submit declarations in support of this case. The 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) a reopening of the investigations into the killing and cover-up, and (3) policy reforms to end the systemic abuse, beginning at CBP, the nation’s largest law enforcement agency.  We’ll be standing in solidarity with Anastasio’s family as they seek long-awaited justice.

_No reprieve. We’re not sure why some folks think that the recent ruling on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in the Fifth Circuit of Appeals was a “reprieve” for DACA recipients. In the Texas v United States ruling, the judges basically said the program — which provides work authorization and protection from deportation to more than 600,000 immigrant youth — was unlawful and they sent it back to Judge Hanen in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Texas who already ruled against DACA for procedural reasons. In evaluating Biden’s new rule on DACA — which followed the proper procedural rules on public comment — Judge Hanen will, unfortunately, still probably find a reason to call the program unlawful. The recent ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals does allow current DACA recipients to continue renewing their status. However, this is far from a reprieve, and it does not allow for first-time applications. In fact, the ruling continues to leave DACA recipients in the same state of legal limbo they have experienced for years now, going from one court case to another, never knowing if they will lose their work permits and protections from detention and deportation. Imagine for just one hot minute what that must feel like; looking over your shoulder, worrying about being taken from family and loved ones and tossed to a country you barely know.
Now, more than ever, it is urgent for Congress to deliver permanent protections for millions of people, not just DACA recipients or immigrant youth, facing the threat of deportation. Congress must set its differences aside, do the right and moral thing, and finally act and provide certainty to hundreds of thousands of people who have already been making enormous contributions to our economy, culture and life. This is not a drill.  We need action now.  

And if you’re wondering what’s in it for US (i.e., the United States), think about this example: Texas has 97,970 DACA recipients, who have $3.7B in spending power, pay $436.8M in taxes, and 14,000 of which own homes in the state. Other states enjoy similar or more economic benefits from immigrants. In the end, only kindness matters (Jewel).

_Title 42 spew. We now include Venezuelans in the Title 42 spewing of asylum seekers back to Mexico. This is yet another horrible policy and practice by the Biden administration that is in clear conflict with our core values of humanity. We can still remember how incredulous and heartbroken we felt when Obama re-started detaining women and children in family detention camps, first, in Artesia, New Mexico, and then, in Dilley and Karnes, Texas. It was horrifying to witness thousands of women, children and infants locked up in prison-like settings, especially knowing that most of them had fled violence and exploitation to seek protection and compassion in the United States. Well, gotta admit, we have the same anger and heartbreak about the (ab)use of Title 42, a World War II era public health statute that was weaponized under COVID-19, first by Trump and now by Biden, to immediately expel people seeking protection in the U.S.-Mexico border. No due process. No evaluation of whether or not people arriving at the border may qualify for asylum. No consideration is given to even the minimum standard of non-refoulement, a moral agreement made by governments worldwide to never send people seeking protection back into harm’s way. The announcement of how the U.S. will treat Venezuelans is even more disturbing when we note that it is seemingly presented as a good thing. The policy allows for 24,000 humanitarian parole visas for Venezuelans (uhm…there are already 7 million Venezuelans who have been displaced due to political turmoil; Colombia alone is already hosting nearly 2.5 million fleeing Venezuelans). This new policy implies it limits enforcement activities on Venezuelans “unlawfully” crossing between ports of entry, sending them back to Mexico and banning them from ever again applying for asylum in the United States. Yet, it also fails to provide a process at ports of entry for people to present and claim asylum and, furthermore, it warns Venezuelans that entering into Mexico irregularly will be grounds for ineligibility. This new policy is not meant to help Venezuelan refugees. Its only possible goals are: (1) to deter protection-seeking Venezuelans from coming to the United States and (2) to show voters that Biden is not “soft” on immigration and border enforcement prior to the midterm elections. Biden should recognize the courage of Venezuelans facing the most incredible odds, traveling through the Darién Pass in Panama, through Central America and Mexico. He should show some courage himself.


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


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