MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Border security is largely the task of the U.S. Border Patrol. That agency has doubled in size over the last decade. It's now the largest law enforcement agency in the country. Critics say the Border Patrol has become overzealous in its mission and faces little accountability. In the last three years, agents have killed up to 20 people along the Southwest border. And a few of those cases have been resolved.

NPR's Ted Robbins reports.

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TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Six months ago, Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez lay dead on the sidewalk on the Mexican side of International Street, one of two identically named streets divided by an 18-foot steel border fence. He was shot eight times, including twice in the head and five times in the back. Border Patrol agents and Nogales, Arizona police had been chasing two men who dropped marijuana bundles on the U.S. side, then fled back into Mexico.

Rocks flew at the agents and at least one agent fired through the fence into Mexico. There is no indication from Mexican police, from an autopsy, from ballistic reports, or from a witness that 16-year-old Elena Rodriguez was involved.

LUIS PARRA: The reports clearly indicate that he did not have any type of weapon in his hand, any type of rock, any type of - nothing. He had a cell phone in his pocket.

ROBBINS: Luis Parra is a lawyer representing the Elena Rodriguez family. He says the boy was simply walking home. In six months, the family has heard nothing. The boy's mother, Araceli Rodriguez, is frustrated by the lack of progress.

ARACELI RODRIQUEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

ROBBINS: She wants justice, she says. She wants to know who the agents are. They are making it difficult for other agents trying to do their jobs, she says.

The FBI and the Border Patrol both say an investigation is ongoing. Neither would comment on the case. The frustration over lengthy investigations, secrecy, and a lack of accountability is not unusual. NPR is aware of numerous cases which are either unresolved or still secret after years. Sometimes the investigations are done by local law enforcement, sometimes by the FBI.

Border Patrol Union vice president Shawn Moran says the real delay happens because the Border Patrol itself waits to start its own internal investigation.

SHAWN MORAN: It's the Border Patrol's unwillingness to run a concurrent administrative investigation while the criminal investigation is going on that holds back these cases.

ROBBINS: The Border Patrol wouldn't confirm that but Moran says he was involved in a shooting case in which he was cleared after three years. Some, even many, of the shooting cases may be justified. But the secrecy, even after a case is closed, means the public never knows. The names of the agents involved are often not released, which means victims and their families can't move forward with civil suits in the absence of criminal charges.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

ROBBINS: About 100 people gathered to pray Wednesday evening where Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was killed. Bullet holes are outlined in red marker on the wall above the spot. Other mourners stuck their heads through the fence across the street on the American side. Even though there's no evidence Elena Rodriguez was involved, Roberto Montiel - another of the lawyers for the family - says gunfire in response to rock throwing is excessive use of force. But, again, what upsets him as much is the fact that there's been no contact in six months.

ROBERTO MONTIEL: I'm embarrassed that our government would allow an officer to shoot a young man and not respond to the family in one way or another. It's shameful.

ROBBINS: Last year, Congress asked for a review of the Border Patrol's use of force. That review is ongoing.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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