U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is reserving the right to use deadly force against rock-throwers, rejecting the recommendation of an internal review to revise the policy.
According to the Associated Press, Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher admitted that the government-commissioned review by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) advised the agency to stop firing on rock-throwers, a practice that has left eight dead since 2010. In the same span, twelve more have been killed in various incidents with border agents. But in spite of these controversial uses-of-force, Fisher said the CBP viewed the recommendations as “very restrictive.”
While the current Border Patrol Training Manual holds that “excessive force is strictly prohibited,” the agency views rocks as lethal weapons, and agents are allowed to exercise deadly force when they believe their lives are in jeopardy. But the agency’s use of force has been under suspicion especially since last year, when a border agent shot a 16-year old eleven times for throwing rocks over the fence between Arizona and Mexico. Local Arizona police later held it was unlikely the rocks could have hit anyone.
CBP reported 185 rock attacks in 2012, and agents responded with gunfire in 22 incidents. In another 42 attacks, Border Patrol responded with “less-than-lethal” force, which can include the use of batons and pepper spray.
A Center for American Progress report showed that the United States spends $17 billion on border security each year and employs 21,370 border agents. But a stronger border and a more difficult journey has led to thousands of migrant deaths. Besides the 19 or more deaths caused directly by border agents, a tougher border has made desperate migrants turn to smugglers , giving criminal organizations a monopoly on illicit border crossings. Smugglers often rape, beat, or abandon migrants to die of thirst or heat along the way.
The CBP affirmed the use-of-force against rock-throwers even as they adopted other tactical changes in the face of mounting criticism, including from sixteen members of congress outraged at the death of detainee Anastasio Hernandes Rojas. September’s reforms included additional training on the use-of-force for agents, and sought to address all-too-frequent incidents of verbal and physical abuse on the border.
Christopher Butterfield is an intern at ThinkProgress.