MEXICO CITY — Mexican leaders on Wednesday condemned the fatal shooting of a Mexican teenager by the U.S. Border Patrol at the international border in El Paso, as U.S. officials scrambled to investigate the circumstances surrounding the second killing of a Mexican by a U.S. agent in two weeks.
According to preliminary reports from U.S. officials, Border Patrol agents on bicycles were pelted with rocks while trying to apprehend migrants trying to cross illegally from Ciudad Juarez into El Paso near a downtown bridge, an area known for drug and human trafficking, and monitored by video cameras and constant patrols.
U.S. officials said an unidentified Border Patrol agent was defending himself as the officers came under attack. The teenager, Sergio Adrian Hernandez Güereca, 15, was shot in the head Monday, according to Mexican officials. Both governments and the FBI are trying to determine whether Hernandez was standing on U.S. or Mexican soil at the time of the shooting, and whether he was throwing rocks and posed a credible threat to the U.S. agents.
Police in the neighboring state of Chihuahua said the teenager died on the Mexican side of the border. Investigators retrieved a .40-caliber bullet casing.
U.S. officials said the Border Patrol agent has been placed on administrative leave, and a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement saying the U.S. government “regrets the loss of life and awaits the results of a complete investigation into this incident.”
Mexican President Felipe Calderón, a close U.S. ally in the drug war raging just south of the border, said Mexico “will use all resources available to protect the rights of Mexican migrants.” In a statement, he said his government “reiterates its rejection to the disproportionate use of force on the part on U.S. authorities on the border with Mexico.”
José Reyes Baeza, the governor of Chihuahua state, said that U.S. agents were too quick to shoot at Mexicans and blamed “the xenophobic and racist conduct” on the passage of a new immigration law in Arizona that allows city and state police to detain people who are in the United States illegally.
José Reyes Ferriz, the mayor Ciudad Juarez, said in a statement that “we cannot tolerate these kind of incidents, where people fight with rocks against firearms, mainly when there are well-trained agents involved in these cases, like Border Patrol agents,” the Associated Press reported. He said the U.S. government must hold the Border Patrol agent accountable if he acted recklessly.
Reyes Ferriz said the Juarez police are reviewing videos taken from the area where the shooting occurred. “Watching those videos, we will be able to establish if Border Patrol agents are the culprit,” he said in a statement.
Tempers are high along the U.S.-Mexico border because of the ongoing violence from the fight against the drug cartels, the Arizona immigration law and an incident two weeks ago in which Anastasio Hernandez, 32, from Mexico, died after a Customs and Border Protection officer shocked him with a stun gun at the San Ysidro border crossing, which separates San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico.
In Ciudad Juarez, a city beset by drug-related violence, the slain teenager’s father told the El Paso Times that his son did not take drugs, was not in a gang and was not trying to cross into the United States. He said his son was just hanging out, as many teenagers do, along the trickle of water that is the Rio Grande and separates the two downtowns.
“He shouldn’t have gotten close to those cowards — what this dog did — shoot into Mexico,” Jesus Hernandez told the El Paso Times.
U.S. Border Patrol agents are routinely pelted with rocks and bottles while chasing and apprehending illegal crossers, and have sometimes been shot at from Mexico. Although most illegal migrants are trying to enter the United States to find work, the borderlands are constantly crisscrossed by drug, human and weapons traffickers, many of them armed.