MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Tensions along the U.S.-Mexico border are a fact of life and lately they've gotten worse following the shooting death of an illegal immigrant. The incident near San Diego has put the U.S. border patrol in the spotlight and it's heating up the rhetoric on both sides as Congress prepares to debate the merits of a new border fence. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.
CARRIE KAHN: U.S. agent Dora Doyle says patrolling the border region has become has become increasingly dangerous. Standing at the steel fence separating San Diego from Tijuana, Doyle pulls out a rock covered in a gasoline-soaked rag, which she says migrants lit on fire and hurled across the border.
DORA DOYLE: These are the size of rocks. You can see how big this rock is. It's like a softball size rock. These are the rocks that they're throwing at our agents to assault our agents.
KAHN: Doyle says tensions along the border clearly have escalated. Assaults against agents have doubled since last year. And just since October, there have been more than 80 incidents involving agents. U.S. officials say it was a rock-throwing incident that sparked the confrontation in last month's shooting death of 20-year-old Guillermo Martinez Rodriguez. San Diego police, which are investigating the shooting, say Martinez was part of a group of migrants trying to scale a border fence. Investigators say when the border patrol tried to intervene Martinez threw a rock, nearly missing an agent's head. The agent then fired his gun. Border patrol officials allege Martinez was a smuggler with a history of past arrests.
AGUSTIN MARTINEZ: (Foreign language spoken)
KAHN: But Agustin Martinez says authorities are lying. Standing on the windy hillside in Tijuana where the shooting happened Martinez says he was with his brother that night and that no rocks were thrown.
MARTINEZ: (Through translator) It's all lies. Anyone who tries to cross the border gets caught several times before actually making it. That's the only way to do it. It doesn't mean you're a drug dealer or a smuggler.
KAHN: Martinez says the agent shot his brother in the back as they were running away. Mexican officials say the bullet, which has not been recovered, pierced Martinez's lungs as it exited his chest. He died at a Tijuana hospital. The shooting sparked widespread condemnation in Mexico. Newspapers covered the story daily. President Vicente Fox ordered a full investigation and even sent Washington a diplomatic note. Adding to the tensions is the upcoming debate in the U.S. Congress over a new 700-mile-long border fence. Commentators in Mexico have likened it to the Berlin wall, prompting a harsh rebuke from U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza. He called such comparisons personally offensive. Southern California Republican Congressman David Dreier said the U.S. actions including the fence have been misinterpreted.
DAVID DREIER: We need to do everything that we can to lower the temperature. I think that that's important, but at the same time we have the responsibility to secure our borders.
KAHN: Dreier says the new border fence is a humane way to deter would-be crossers and lower the number of deaths. But Dreier jumped into the fray last week when he co-authored a letter urging an investigation into alleged incursions by the Mexican military onto U.S. soil. Dreier says he's worried the soldiers could be deserters or working with drug traffickers.
DREIER: And obviously it jeopardizes our national security if we have people who are in the Mexican military involved in illicit activity. And I don't know that that's the case, but there are questions that are raised about this possibly going on and we just want to have a full airing of it.
KAHN: Gregory Rodriguez of the New America says the two countries need to sit down and be honest about the immigration problem.
GREGORY RODRIGUEZ: I think the rhetoric is getting so high primarily because of the dishonesty on both sides. That the United States clearly doesn't recognize its nations own need for migrants. And Mexico isn't terribly honest about its need to lose migrants.
KAHN: Rodriguez says until both countries hash out an immigration accord migrants will continue to be caught in the middle. Back in Tijuana Agustin Martinez says he hopes for justice for his brother.
MARTINEZ: (Foreign language spoken)
KAHN: Martinez says he wants his government to continue pressuring the U.S. about the shooting and to make sure the agent who shot his brother is punished. Officials in both Mexico and the U.S. say their investigations continue. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Angeles.
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