Tensions Build Along U.S.-Mexico Border

Reports of border incursions by Mexican officials and the recent deadly shooting of an illegal Mexican immigrant in Texas have boosted tensions between Mexican and U.S. officials along the border. Alex Chadwick speaks with Carrie Kahn about the current situation and the potential long-term impact on America's relationship with its neighbor to the south.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Along Mexico's border with the United States several incidents recently have raised tensions between the two countries. Members of the U.S. border patrol complained that uniformed Mexican police and soldiers have made regular incursions across the border and this has gone on for about ten years. And Mexican officials are demanding a probe into the fatal shooting of an illegal immigrant, by a U.S. border agent, late last month that came at a border crossing. Joining us now is NPR's Carrie Kahn. Carrie, first the shooting, what happened in this incident?

CARRIE KAHN, reporting:

Well, it happened December 30th and it was in the evening along the border between San Diego and Tijuana and at that part of the border there are two fences that are there. So U.S. officials say a group of migrants hopped the first fence and were attempting to scale the second barrier, they were using a ladder, when a border agent intervened.

And the agent says one of the migrants threw a rock, nearly hitting his head, and they had a one-on-one confrontation, and the agent fired his gun. Investigators say the migrant then ran back toward Mexico. Mexican officials say the man was 20-year-old Guillermo Martinez, and he later died of his wounds at a Tijuana hospital.

And Alex, I went to the area with the dead man's brother. His name is Augustine, and he had a much different version of the events. Augustine was with his brother that night. He says the agent shot his brother in the back as the two were running away, and Augustine denies throwing any rocks.

CHADWICK: So, this incident is about three weeks old, now. An investigation is under way, or is the border patrol saying, this is done. We know what happened.

KAHN: Actually, the San Diego Police Department is investigating the shooting incident there, and Mexican officials are also investigating, and their investigation continues.

CHADWICK: Okay. What about the story of this incursion of Mexican police and soldiers coming across the border, which the border patrol agents say has been going on for ten years. Why are we just hearing about it?

KAHN: Those who cover the border, you hear about it frequently from border agents. Because what they say, the Mexicans always say, is that they're accidental incursions, that, usually in remote areas where there is no border fence, and it's very difficult, the demarcation between the two countries.

CHADWICK: And the suggestion on the part of the border patrol agents is, this is maybe not accidental incursions. These may be guys who are being paid off by drug smugglers to help get the stuff across the border.

KAHN: That is the fear. This report was issued by the Department of Homeland Security, and they documented more than 200 of these incursions by the Mexican military. And so, two prominent congressmen here in Southern California are asking for an investigation. They want to know more information about this, whether they were military personnel aiding drug traffickers, or whether they were imposters dressed in military personnel uniforms.

CHADWICK: When we began this report, we said that there actually has been a kind of worsening of tensions between Mexico and the U.S. over these incidents. My impression is that, kind of, various things happen along the border all the time. Are there really increased tensions because of these incidents?

KAHN: There's been other times where there have been tensions between the U.S. and Mexico. Right now, the rhetoric is running a little high, and the screaming on both sides of the border is particularly high, especially after the shooting. It was just one more insult that Mexicans saw, especially after Congress has just, the U.S. House of Representatives have just passed a proposal to build a 700-mile border fence. So, together, the two incidents fueled newspaper headlines, commentators in Mexico, and they've been saying this is just growing anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S.

They want us to come here and work, but they don't want to afford us any rights, and they're constantly violating our human rights. So, the tensions have been high. Mexico's President Fox actually sent a diplomatic note to Washington D.C., urging a full investigation into the shooting, and there's been some barbs back and forth. So, things are a little higher now than before.

CHADWICK: NPR's Carrie Kahn here with us at NPR West. She regularly covers border issues.

Carrie, thank you.

KAHN: You're welcome.

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