May 10, 2011

Mr. President: Border families deserve justice

The recently formed Southern Border Communities Coalition, comprised of over 60 community groups serving border communities from San Diego to Brownsville is pleased to learn that President Barack Obama will visit the border city of El Paso to deliver remarks on the prospects for immigration reform.  Equally important will be his highlighting the fact that the border region has registered the lowest crime rates in the United States in cities with populations of over 500,000.

But not everyone on the border is filled with encouragement.

President Obama’s May 10 visit to the border region coincides with the traditional, Mexican Mother’s Day celebration.  This year, once again, many Mexican families on both sides of the border will spend the day in sadness and mourning.  These mothers will remember their sons and daughters who died, subjected either to the abuses committed by poorly trained and under-supervised DHS agents or to the nation’s failed and deadly policy of pushing migrants into inhospitable borderland deserts and mountains.  Since 1994 at least 6,000 men, women and children have suffered agonizing deaths as a result of our ill-conceived border enforcement policies.

During President Obama’s watch, our border communities have suffered a wave of violent incidents caused by Border Patrol agents and other Department of Homeland Security officers.  These shameful acts, which have so far gone unpunished, have destroyed families, devastated communities and left border residents wondering how long we must endure such levels of brutality by our own government.

In the last year, the southern border region has borne witness to the following tragedies:

  • On May 28, 2010, Anastasio Hernández Rojas, a 42 year old father of five, was brutally beaten, tasered and killed by border guards near the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego, CA while in the custody of Border Patrol agents.
  • On June 7, 2010, a U.S. Border Patrol agent shot and killed 15 year-old Sergio Adrian Hernández Güereca, near the Paso del Norte Bridge in El Paso, TX.
  • On January 6, 2011 another teenager, 17 year-old Ramses Barrón Torres was gunned down by Border Patrol agents in the Arizona border community of Nogales.
  • On March 21, 2011, Carlos Lamadrid, 19, was shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent in Douglas, AZ.
  • On March 30, 2011, José Gutierrez, 41, a long-time resident of Los Angeles and father of three, was also tasered by border guards at the San Luis, AZ Port of Entry, and is clinging to life after suffering various life threatening injuries.

The families of Anastasio, Sergio Adrian, Ramses, Carlos and José still wait for justice.

Sadly, a lower crime rate in our communities has not translated into an improved quality-of-life for border residents.  Quite the contrary, the U.S.-Mexico border, although statistically one of the less crime-ridden regions in the country, in the name of “national security,” has become arguably our nation’s most militarized region; and an area where our leaders make a mockery of our constitutional rights, government officials are not held accountable and where respect for human life and dignity seem to be a thing of the past.

These unaccountable abuses, the increased military presence and continuous calls from politicians and leaders to further militarize the border region have left border communities living in fear and uncertainty.  The implications for a region engulfed by heavily armed uniformed agent’s increases the likelihood that civil and human rights will diminish, or worse, will be trampled upon.

Members of Congress and misguided elected local officials have demanded from the Administration that additional “boots on the ground” should descend on southern border communities as a prerequisite to begin the dialogue about immigration reform.  Unfortunately, the White House has conceded to these demands without taking into consideration the rights and needs of border residents.  The result has been an expensive, ill-conceived patchwork of repressive enforcement policies that have only served to create havoc for border families.  Border communities, particularly those of Latino descent, today experience increased racial profiling and harassment.

If the Administration is truly committed to immigration reform, the President must take immediate steps to prevent the loss of life that is a direct consequence of the draconian border control policies that have devastated communities since the mid 1990s, and filled too many households with grief.

The vibrant and dynamic border region must be treated with dignity and respect by the Administration, and given the ability to succeed and thrive with dignity.  Rounding up hard-working, honest individuals in their communities, incarcerating immigrants for supposedly not having correct documents, shooting and beating border residents and deploying National Guard members to our communities diminishes the democratic principles of our society and moves us away from a meaningful and civil discussion on immigration reform.

Until the Administration acknowledges that border communities deserve respect, transparency, well-trained and accountable authorities that acknowledge and follow our Constitution, the promise of humane immigration reform will never be fulfilled.

Real security relies on the strengthening the trust between residents and law enforcement officials, in ensuring access to justice and redress of grievances and upholding life over politics.

Mr. President, give us the chance to live in peace, justice and dignity.  We respectfully call on you to halt the militarization of the border and punish the agents who have wrongfully killed and maimed our friends and neighbors.  Bring justice to the grieving mothers, wives and children.  On Mothers’ Day commit to justice for border families.


Southern Border Communities Coalition Steering Committee


Jennifer Allen, Border Action Network

Christian Ramirez, American Friends Service Committee

California Representatives

Christian Ramirez (representative)

Andrea Guerrero (alternate)

Arizona Representatives

Jennifer Allen (representative)

Jaime Farrant (alternate)

New Mexico / West Texas Representatives

Vicki Gaubeca (representative)

Kristin Connor (alternate)

South Texas Representatives

Michael Seifert (representative)

Jazmin Francis (alternate)