The union that represents all 15,000 of the U.S. Border Patrol's non-supervisory personnel accused the Mexican government of "grandstanding" and making "baseless accusations" against a Border Patrol agent who fatally shot a 15-year-old illegal immigrant while under assault from violent rock throwers.
The National Border Patrol Council (NBPC), in a statement, said Mexican officials have wrongly portrayed the unidentified agent as a racist and portrayed the "deceased criminal as an innocent boy who had never done a thing wrong in his life."
"None of these statements have any merit," the NBPC said. "Mexico bears quite a bit of responsibility whenever one of its citizens dies along the border due to its allowing criminal organizations free rein and its refusal to police its northern border."
The NBPC said the incident occurred Tuesday, when Border Patrol agents were forced to defend themselves and their fellow agents after they were assaulted at the U.S.-Mexico border by several people armed with rocks.
The agent who shot the teenager was on foot along the Rio Grande when he came under attack by rock throwers. He was a member of the agency's bike patrol.
"Border Patrol Agents are not trained, nor paid to withstand violent assaults without the ability to defend themselves. Rocks are weapons and constitute deadly force," the NBPC said.
The statement said agents will respond in kind if confronted with deadly force.
"No agent wants to have to shoot another human being, but when an agent is assaulted and fears for his life then his hand is forced," it said.
Sergio Adrian Hernandez Huereka, 15, was fatally shot near a railroad bridge along the Rio Grande connecting Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas. He was among a group of illegal immigrants attempting to gain entry to the United States. Many in the group threw large rocks at the agents attempting to stop them.
Just after the shooting, Mexican federal police arrived at the scene and, at gunpoint, ordered the Border Patrol agents out of the area while onlookers on the Mexican side taunted the agents and hurled rocks and firecrackers at them. An amateur video of the incident is now under review by U.S. and Mexican authorities.
Under existing Department of Homeland Security policy, Border Patrol agents are allowed to use lethal force against rock throwers.
More than 200 agents have been assaulted along the border since October, mostly with rocks, and many of the agency's patrol vehicles have been fitted with steel bars and metal plates to protect the agents. The vehicles are called "war wagons."
Violence against agents along the border, according to Homeland Security records, is up 31 percent this fiscal year.
The Mexican government condemned the shooting last week in a telephone call to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and some Mexican politicians have demanded that the agent who fired the fatal shot be detained and extradited to Mexico to stand trial.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon said his government also was "worried" about what he called "this surge of violence against Mexicans" along the border.
Several rank-and-file Border Patrol agents told The Washington Times that they were waiting to see what support the agent involved in the El Paso shooting will get from the agency's leadership. They noted that former agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean were charged and sentenced to lengthy prison terms for shooting a drug-smuggling suspect in the buttocks as he fled back to Mexico.
Mr. Ramos, 37, received an 11-year prison sentence, and Mr. Compean, 28, a 12-year sentence in October 2006 for shooting Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila in February 2005 when he was running from a van loaded with 743 pounds of marijuana near Fabens, Texas. The agents testified during their trial that they thought Aldrete-Davila had a weapon.
Aldrete-Davila later pleaded guilty to smuggling a second load of marijuana into the United States and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. On Jan. 19, 2008, President Bush commuted the sentences of Mr. Ramos and Mr. Compean, ending their prison terms on March 20, 2009.
Former Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar, now deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, did nothing to publicly support Mr. Ramos or Mr. Compean — a lack of action that earned him a unanimous 100-0 no-confidence vote by the NBPC national leadership.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. called the shooting "extremely regrettable" and added that the FBI had begun a preliminary investigation into the teenager's death.
The NBPC said that while the "loss of this teenager's life is regrettable, it is due solely to his decision to pick up a rock and assault a United States Border Patrol Agent."
"We stand behind the actions of the agents who did their duty in El Paso, and are confident that the investigation into his incident will justify their actions," it said.
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