As rocks hurled from Mexico rained down on United States Border Patrol agents one night last October, at least one of the agents drew his gun and fired across the border, striking a teenager 11 times, 7 times in the back. The boy, José Antonio Elena Rodriguez, 16, collapsed and died on a cracked sidewalk blocks from his home, under a sign that read “emergencias médicas.” The police in Nogales, Mexico, reported that he had been carrying only a cellphone. The shooting was not an isolated case. He was one of at least 15 people killed by border agents in the Southwest since January 2010, their deaths a jolt to the careful balance of sovereignty and security that underlies a binational debate over immigration reform.
Those shootings — sometimes during confrontations that began with assaults on agents, other times under less clear circumstances — have bolstered criticism of agents and customs officers who operate along the United States-Mexico border. Lawmakers, civil rights advocates and victims’ families in both countries, concerned about what they view as a lack of oversight and accountability, have made angry demands for answers. Of the 15 victims, José Antonio was one of 10 who were Mexican citizens, 6 of whom died in Mexico, felled by bullets fired by agents in the United States. Since January 2010, not a single agent has been criminally charged in cases of lethal use of force, and the agency would not say whether disciplinary action had been taken.