Early Sunday morning, Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez and his partner were on patrol on the remote Texas Interstate 10, around 90 miles east of El Paso. The pair said they were “responding to activity.” A short while later, Martinez’s partner radioed to say that they had both been injured and were in desperate need of assistance.
“Both agents sustained traumatic head injuries, along with other miscellaneous physical injuries such as broken bones,” a statement from the FBI’s El Paso field office read. “It was determined that both of the agents’ injuries were severe and required advanced medical care.” Despite doctor’s best efforts, Agent Martinez passed away. His partner remains hospitalized.
But exactly what happened when Martinez and his partner responded to the call remains a mystery. The FBI confirmed that neither of the agents were fired upon, however on Monday the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) union released a strongly-worded and politically-minded statement saying that Martinez had been beaten to death by migrants with rocks.
“[Agent Martinez] appears to have been ambushed by a group of illegal aliens who he was tracking. Our agent’s report from the ground say that he was struck in the head multiple times with a rock,” the NBPC said. “These disgusting acts and complete disregard for human life need to stop immediately…. Family members of slain Agent Martinez will never get to see him come home again all because we have failed to secure our borders.”
However, according to the Associated Press, investigators now believe that Martinez and his partner may have sustained their injuries falling into a 14-foot culvert. The official added that the pair were patrolling after dark in an area where drugs were often hidden in storm culverts. Separately, a border patrol supervisor said that any reports about the agents being attacked were “speculation”. The local Sheriff, Oscar Carillo also stated that “the injuries to [Martinez], after talking to his doctors, were consistent with a fall. Very consistent with a fall.”
In short, officials really don’t know the full circumstances that led to Agent Martinez’s tragic death — especially since Martinez’s partner can’t remember the incident at all. But that hasn’t stopped conservatives and right-wing media from immediately jumping to conclusions about the case.
On Sunday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) claimed Martinez’s death was a “stark reminder of the ongoing threat that an unsecure border poses to the safety of our communities.” That same day, President Trump abruptly tweeted that he would “seek out and bring to justice those responsible.”
“We will, and must, build the Wall!” he added.
On Monday, Gov. Greg Abott said he was offering $20,000 reward for information about the “attack”; former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz on Tuesday also told Fox and Friends that Martinez’s death was proof that Trump’s push for a border wall was necessary.
“Don’t let people fool you into thinking that everybody who’s coming across the border just wants to make their life better,” Chaffetz insisted. “No! These people, they’re running drugs, they’re doing other nefarious things, these are some really bad actors out there. And I want someone to go down to that border down there and actually film — actually look at what that border looks like. ‘Cause my guess is — I’m just guessing, right in this area — it’s probably like barbed wire. Maybe not even a fence at all.”
Many of the headlines strewn across right-leaning media echoed those sentiments, casually using words like “illegal immigrants” and “ambush” in the same sentence.
Border Patrol Officer killed at Southern Border, another badly hurt. We will seek out and bring to justice those responsible. We will, and must, build the Wall!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2017
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) November 21, 2017
Many of the conservatives currently speculating about Agent Martinez’s death are the same ones who have previously called for tempered responses to other tragedies. In October, two days after a horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, the White House claimed it would be “premature to discuss policy when we don’t know all the facts of what took place last night.” Similarly, in the immediate aftermath of a shooting at a Sutherland Springs, Texas church that left 26 dead, Abbott dodged questions about gun measures that would have prevented the gunman from obtaining a firearm, instead sending “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and reminding the public that details were still scarce.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the number of illegal immigrant crossings has declined sharply in the past 10 years, partly inspired by the Trump administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents’ increasingly aggressive tactics. Several studies have also shown that undocumented immigrants are, on the whole, far less likely to commit crimes.