A Mexican national who died after a confrontation with US border agents has become the latest symbol of the crisis surrounding US-Mexico relations and migrant affairs.
Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, a 42-year-old father of five US-born children, died in a California hospital May 31, following a violent encounter with US Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol agents at the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego three days earlier.
“We are deeply concerned about the incident,” Andrea Guerrero of the American Civil Liberties Union’s San Diego office told Frontera NorteSur. “We are calling for a transparent investigation of the incident.”
According to US Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Jacqueline Dizdul, Hernandez became combative and ignored orders to stop fighting after he resisted deportation.
Unidentified witnesses quoted in the Mexican and US press tell a different story, alleging Hernandez was assaulted, shocked with a Taser gun multiple times, and then repeatedly kicked and hit by as many as 20 officers even as he was screaming and writhing on the ground. Reportedly, personnel from Mexico’s National Migration Institute witnessed parts of the altercation.
Quickly lapsing into unconsciousness, Hernandez was transported to a local hospital where he was later pronounced dead. The San Diego coroner’s office ruled that high blood pressure, physical contact with the officers and the presence of methamphetamines were contributing factors to Hernandez’s death.
The death of the 20-year US resident drew criticism from the office of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and Tijuana Archbishop Rafael Romo Munoz. Numerous videos and angry messages were posted on Twitter, You Tube and the websites of Mexico’s major news organizations.
Expressing an “energetic condemnation,” President Calderon’s office criticized the “excessive use of force” by US federal agents. Mexico’s Foreign Ministry also sharply condemned Hernandez’s death, announcing it was forming a legal team to monitor the outcome of the case.
With a diplomatic tussle brewing, US Ambassador Carlos Pascual and Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary John T. Morton spoke out at a Mexico City press conference last week. The high-ranking US officials said the Obama administration was very concerned about what Morton called a “very tragic death.”
Pro-immigrant groups mobilized rapidly to protest Hernandez’s death. On June 1, about 50 members of the Mexicali Civic Front briefly blockaded a border crossing to the US, where they also called for a boycott of Arizona because of the SB 1070 law that criminalizes undocumented immigrants. Civic Front leader Sergio Tamay said his group would work towards establishing a common front between pro-immigrant forces in Baja California and California.
On the US side, the Raza Rights Coalition and American Friends Service Committee organized a June 3 rally of more than 500 people at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. Garnering gestures of support from many passing motorists and pedestrians, the event included the participation of members of Hernandez’s family.
“I ask for justice, not money,” said Maria de la Luz Rojas, Hernandez’s mother. “My son came to seek life and not death here.”
The Raza Rights Coalition’s Adriana Jasso also took aim at the Obama administration, criticizing the White House for not changing US immigration policy and failing to legalize undocumented residents of the US.
“We are all Anastasio,” chanted the demonstrators.
In a statement released prior to the protest, the Raza Rights Coalition and American Friends Service Committee blasted Hernandez’s death.
“The killing of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas by Border Patrol agents is a clear indication of the climate of hate and repression that is being fomented every day against migrant communities and is tied to the current genocidal and murderous government policy,” the two groups charged. “Our silent protest will help expose the cruelty of a militarized border that is built upon a foundation of hate and repression.”
Hernandez’s death is currently under investigation by the San Diego Police Department’s homicide unit.
While acknowledging it did not have all the facts at hand, Amnesty International said the Hernandez incident should be an occasion for reviewing the use of Taser guns by the Border Patrol and strictly regulating their use. The international human rights organization urged a complete investigation of Hernandez’s death, including the publicizing of the autopsy report as soon as possible.
Additional sources: Agencia Proceso, June 3, 2010. El Universal, May 29 and 30, 2010; June 3 and 4, 2010. Articles by Julieta Martinez, Notimex and editorial staff. La Jornada, June 1 and 2, 2010. Articles by Antonio Heras, Notimex and DPA.
Frontera/SUN/Associated Press. May 30, 2010; June 2 and 5, 2010. San Diego Union Tribune, May 29, 2010; June 1 and 3, 2010. Articles by Leonel Sanchez, Sandra Dibble and the Associated Press. Agencia Reforma/El Sur, June 1, 2010. Article by Miguel Cervantes.