Activists accuse border enforcement agents of pattern of excessive force

Family members and activists, including Jose Gutierrez (far left), protest outside a federal building downtown supporting the
Family members and activists, including Jose Gutierrez (far left), protest outside a federal building downtown supporting the "Todos Somos Anastasio" campaign.
Ruxandra Guidi/KPCC

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A witness video, taken feet away from the Tijuana border crossing, does not show the beating of 42 year-old Anastasio Hernandez Rojas by U.S. Border Patrol agents in June of 2010.

But it does capture the sounds of batons and his voice as he yells, in Spanish, for help.

A San Diego County coroner ruled the killing a homicide and listed the cause of death as a heart attack. The story made local headlines, but it faded into oblivion, until recently.

A video PBS' "Need To Know" broadcast last month indicates that Hernandez Rojas wasn’t resisting arrest. It shows that he was hog-tied, handcuffed and tased by more than a dozen agents while he pleaded for his life.

The video went viral in Tijuana and along the Mexico side of the border. Now it is prompting border activists on the U.S. side to revive their demands for an investigation.

“I was beaten and put into a coma for three weeks," said Jose Gutierrez, a man who survived an attack similar to the one that killed Hernandez Rojas. "I don’t think anyone deserves to get beaten for being illegal.”

Last year, border enforcement agents in Arizona stopped Gutierrez of Los Angeles as he tried an illegal border crossing. He said they beat him so severely that he fell into a coma.

Unlike Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, Gutierrez emerged alive from the beating. Now he and his family are joining Hernandez Rojas’ widow and border activists. They are visiting L.A., alongside seven other cities across the country in a campaign they call “Todos Somos Anastasio” – We Are All Anastasio.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker social service organization in San Diego, has documented eight killings of migrants at the hands of Border Patrol agents in the last two years.

“You have so many boots on the ground with little supervision with absolutely no oversight, no sense of accountability, and much less transparency in how they conduct business,” said AFSC director Pedro Rios. He linked a pattern of violence with increased enforcement at the border.

The San Diego Sector of the Department of Homeland Security, overseeing local Border Patrol agents, didn’t respond to KPCC's interview request. But in previous statements, agency officials did say that its agents are “authorized to utilize deadly force when they believe their life or the life of another is being placed at risk."

The federal Justice Department is also reportedly gathering evidence that border enforcement agents have used excessive violence on people trying to cross from Mexico into the United States.