Responding to the troubling findings of a new PBS documentary, "Crossing the Line at the Border," 16 members of Congress called for justice in the tragic case of Anastacio Hernandez-Rojas and reiterated the need for tougher oversight of Border Patrol personnel to end the abuse of people in the agency's custody. In letters to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder and the DHS Office of the Inspector General, they sought answers to pressing questions about Customs and Border Protection's policies regarding the use of force and the investigation of cases of brutality.
"The disturbing footage and eye-witness accounts that aired on PBS raise serious questions about the Border Patrol's role in the death of Anastacio Hernandez-Rojas and after two years, we owe it to his family to finally provide some definitive answers," said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA). "In light of this new evidence, I call on the Justice Department to complete its protracted investigation and take appropriate action."
"The violent nature of Mr. Hernandez-Rojas' death, combined with the troubling accounts from witnesses and the newly discovered video of the incident, means that this case merits a full and honest investigation," said Rep. José E. Serrano (D-NY). "I believe that CBP policies need a full review, followed by appropriate reforms. Any ambiguity or lack of accountability that could lead to violence must be eliminated. Our letters make it clear that in the wake of this troubling event and others like it, we must have answers and ensure that such incidents are not repeated by any federal agency."
"The disturbing case of Anastacio Hernandez Rojas highlights the tragic consequences of the failed strategy of militarizing our border," said Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO). "While protecting our border is an essential part of fixing our broken immigration system, enforcement alone won't fix the problem."
"A thorough investigation must be launched concerning the death of Anastacio Hernandez Rojas and the officers involved," said Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ). "We need to identify, address and correct the larger issues surrounding this incident to ensure that this will not happen again."
"For years I have heard serious concerns expressed by the communities along the border that the Border Patrol is occasionally violent and only rarely accountable," said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL), the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. "In the immigration reform bills I have introduced with the support of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, I have called for greater oversight, transparency, and accountability from the Border Patrol precisely for instances like this where excessive force and secrecy combine into a mixture that is toxic to democracy. I hope this incident leads to concrete reforms that prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again."
Hernandez-Rojas was killed in June 2010 at a border crossing near San Diego after being struck repeatedly with a baton and tazed five times by Border Patrol agents. While the Patrol subsequently insisted that Hernandez-Rojas--a long-term resident of the United States with five U.S. citizen children--was resisting, cell phone footage and eye-witness testimony gathered by PBS indicate that he was already handcuffed and lying on the ground when agents accosted him. Hernandez-Rojas's tragic death was ruled a homicide by the San Diego Police Department and soon after, the Justice Department launched its own investigation. However, almost two years later, no arrests have been made in the case.
Statistics obtained by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard from the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General (DHS OIG) show that since 2004, 132 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees have been convicted of crimes, with 26 arrests and 14 convictions in the past year alone. As a result, the pending Fiscal Year 2013 Homeland Security Appropriations bill mandates a Government Accountability Office audit of Customs and Border Protection ethics, conduct and integrity training programs.