Candles burn near the bloodstained concrete sidewalk where a youth was tragically killed when more than a dozen bullets shot across the wall into the Mexican bordertown. I've walked that sidewalk running parallel to the border wall and Calle Internacional in Nogales, Sonora possibly hundreds of times. It is with this intimate awareness of the context that I describe how recent deaths in the name of homeland security are an affront to all families of the borderlands.
Four deaths in six weeks across the border region, one common offender
On the evening of Oct. 10 U.S. Border Patrol agents shot and killed 16-year old José Antonio Elena Rodriguez. The shots were fired through the paneled border wall in Nogales hitting José Antonio in the back seven-to-eight times. The agents allege the boy was involved in rock throwing. For more detailed description of the circumstances, see this article.
About a week earlier, Border Patrol agent Nicolas Ivie, 30, was killed in Naco, another Arizona border town just east of Nogales, when a fellow U.S. agent searching for smugglers mistakenly opened fire. Agent Ivie has a wife and two young daughters who live in southern Arizona, and the family is publicly fundraising to survive without him.
In the California borderlands, Valeria Munique Tachiquin Alvarado, a 32-year-old mother of five, was shot and killed on Sept. 28 by a plainclothes Border Patrol agent in a suburb of San Diego County. She allegedly hit the agent with her vehicle and then suffered five shots to the face, chest, and arms. The fourth killing occurred Sept. 3 in Texas. Guillermo Arévalo Pedroza, 36, was celebrating his wife’s birthday on the sandy banks of the Rio Grande when Border Patrol agents opened fired from a riverboat. A video of the incident shows Guillermo dying in the arms of his family.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have killed 19 people since 2010, including five teenagers, according to a listing of the Southern Border Communities Commission. Violence and needless death in the border region have increased in synchronized strides with the U.S. efforts to secure the border, and it's hurting border families and communities.
Tracing the violence and bullets back to our doorstep
Agents in these cases are rarely prosecuted, and investigations usually conclude that the U.S. officials acted in self-defense with a reasonable use of force.
"That the agents did not evade the alleged threats and, instead, responded with deadly force is indicative of what has become an institutional way of life for the U.S. Border Patrol — and the “homeland security” apparatus in the borderlands more broadly," stated Joe Nevins, a professor of geography at Vassar College and author of multiple books on the subject.
In the context of these deaths, the "homeland security apparatus" is facing heat because U.S. government officials knowingly armed Mexican gang and cartel members in Operation Fast and Furious. Since 2009, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) allowed nearly 2,000 guns to be purchased in the U.S. by Mexican drug cartels, namely in Phoenix and other locations, reportedly to trace cartel leaders as part of the War on Drugs. These same weapons, mostly AK-47s and high-powered handguns, have turned up at multiple crime scenes on both sides of the border, including massacres, kidnappings, and then the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol, Brian Terry, in December 2010 in Naco; the same station of the most recent death of Agent Ivie.
Congressional hearings and investigation in recent months have exposed this program, but the Attorney General has not stepped down, and 1,200 weapons that travelled south across the border remain unaccounted for, fueling the drug-related violence in Mexico that has already led to 50,000 deaths.
The cycle of violence is perpetuated because homeland security, including the wars on drugs and terror, is promoted by whatever means necessary. Thousands of U.S. guns are placed into the hands of gang and cartel members, then border residents are declared a threat to security, thus allowing the excessive use of force by guns in the hands of U.S. agents. Violence in the borderlands is escalated year after year with bloated budgets for weapons and security machinery as well as impunity for the U.S. officials in Washington, D.C., and in the field who sponsor the violence.
Jesus' call to end the cycle of violence
In the days following Agent Ivie's recent death, the national assumption was that his killer was an armed smuggler; after all, during that same week his designated Border Patrol Station was renamed for fallen Agent Terry who died from a U.S.-purchased gun traced to Operation Fast and Furious. The CBP Deputy Commissioner, David Aguilar responded to the news of his death, "Agent Ivie died in the line of duty, protecting our nation against those who threaten our way of life. His death only strengthens our resolve to enforce the rule of law and bring those responsible to justice." (I encourage you reader to take a moment and read that quote one more time.)
Three days after those words were spoken, investigations concluded instead Ivie's death came from "friendly fire," yet Deputy Aguilar's statement is still quite applicable in the wake of these recent killings at the border. Families and residents of the border need to be protected from the U.S.-sponsored violence that threatens their way of life.
In the final hours that Jesus spent with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, it seems Jesus knew that his execution could spur some of his followers on to reactions of violence. Such reactions would begin the early Christian church on a trajectory of endless bloodshed in the name of self-defense amidst the coming persecution.
According to scripture, in some of his last words to the disciples during his arrest, Jesus rebukes the use of the sword because of how it destroys those who rely on it for security. Jesus said, “Put your sword back where it belongs. All who use swords are destroyed by swords," (Matthew 26:52, The Message).
As someone who has lived and worked in the borderlands, it is my prayer that these deaths may strengthen our resolve to lay down our swords of border militarization before another young boy dies on a cold sidewalk.