National Security


And now to a story from Arizona where the Department of Homeland Security is examining its policy on deadly force along the U.S.-Mexico border. In less than two years, U.S. Border Patrol agents have killed 18 Mexican citizens there, including eight people who were throwing rocks. NPR's Ted Robbins reports.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: One evening last month, Border Patrol agents responded to a report of two drug smugglers jumping the fence between the twin cities of Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora. As the agents approached, a group of people on the Mexican side began throwing rocks at them. The Border Patrol says the agents told the people to stop. And when they didn't, one agent opened fire.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Good evening. New details are emerging tonight surrounding a teenager shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent last week.

ROBBINS: Within days, news outlets identified the victim:


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: ...sixteen-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez.

ROBBINS: He was not one of the smugglers, but he was shot numerous times through the fence, in Mexico. Many in Mexico were outraged, and it was not an isolated incident. Since 2010, six of the eight people killed by Border Patrol agents while throwing rocks were on the Mexican side of the border. Ricardo Alday is a spokesman for the Mexican embassy in Washington.

RICARDO ALDAY: By no means, I'm minimizing our own challenges and our need to keep strengthening security on our side of the border. This is about the disproportionate use of force, the use of lethal force in cases like this.

ROBBINS: The Border Patrol didn't respond to our request for comment, but it says rocks have caused hundreds of injuries to agents in just the last year. The agency is on record saying it considers rock throwing to be deadly force, which sometimes demands the same in response. We did get a copy of Customs and Border Protection's Use of Force Manual. Some of it is redacted, but nowhere in the readable parts is rock throwing mentioned.

Former Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Ralph Basham told the PBS show "Need to Know" that agents need latitude when they encounter people because they often don't know what threat they face.


RALPH BASHAM: You don't know what they represent. It could be that day worker or it could be a terrorist or it could be a cartel smuggling drugs or people.

ROBBINS: The Border Patrol has vehicles reinforced with cages to protect agents from rocks. Critics want to know why agents don't use rubber bullets to respond or just get out of range of the rocks. And when agents do kill someone in Mexico, Vicki Gaubeca wants to know why they're rarely held accountable. Gaubeca, who heads the ACLU's Regional Center for Border Rights in New Mexico, says a Border Patrol agent should face the same discipline a police officer would away from the border.

VICKI GAUBECA: And to argue otherwise would mean that U.S. agents could intentionally shoot Mexicans or Canadian citizens across the border with no accountability for their actions.

ROBBINS: Mexico's ambassador has said the perception that Border Patrol agents have impunity to shoot across the border and kill Mexican citizens adds to mistrust and damages security between the two nations. Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from