Since the night of October 10, 2012, Taide Elena and Araceli Rodriguez have traveled a long road to access justice for Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. The road has not been easy. On three occasions, the U.S. government has denied them justice. On countless other events, the same government has violated their rights as victims of a crime that has become tragically common over the years: the murder of people -migrants or not- by U.S. Border Patrol agents.
In the first trial on April 2018, a jury in a federal courtroom in Tucson, Arizona, acquitted Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz of second-degree murder charges for the murder of Jose Antonio. In a second trial for lesser charges in November 2018, a jury only reached a nonguilty verdict for involuntary manslaughter and a hung jury for voluntary manslaughter.
In November 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the right to justice for Sergio Adrian Hernandez Güereca, killed by Border Patrol agent Jesus Mesa in 2010. This result further hindered necessary U.S. Border Patrol accountability and guaranteeing impunity for U.S. agents who have committed crimes against individuals in other countries from U.S. soil. With this ruling, the Supreme Court further obstructs the right to justice that victims of U.S. Border Patrol agents have fought for, including Jose Antonio and his family.
To the jurors and authorities who reviewed the case, it was not enough that Lonnie Swartz fired 16 shots in 34 seconds into Jose Antonio’s back. It was not enough for the jurors that the killer activated his weapon from the U.S. side, through the border wall, against the 16 years old who was only walking on the sidewalk. Nor was it enough that a secret witness, el señor, admitted receiving $234,000 by U.S. authorities over nine years to link Jose Antonio to organized crime groups falsely. The evidence that shows Border Patrol’s apparent efforts to hide the reports and videos of the night of the murder was not enough either. It was not enough for the U.S. justice system to see that Jose Antonio’s murder was not an isolated case: it is but the result of impunity, white supremacy, the criminalization of black, indigenous, and Latin American communities; and increasing border militarization.
Over the past 20 years, the U.S. Border Patrol killed more than 100 people. All agents responsible have received 100 percent impunity. For border communities and victims of U.S. Border Patrol brutality, the militarization of the border is also experienced through the creation, modification, and even the rejection of laws and environmental protection. In this case, impunity is a State strategy that guarantees the functioning of U.S. foreign policy and the safety of its economic and military interests. Border Patrol impunity is violence, and its victims are the thousands.
Nine years after the murder of Jose Antonio by U.S. Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz, his family reminds us that border patrol victims will not find peace or healing without justice; and that there can be no justice until there is accountability for those responsible, reparation of the damage for the victims and guarantees of non-repetition for the communities and people who remain vulnerable to U.S. Border Patrol violence.
Anastacio Hernandez Rojas was brutally beaten and killed by Border Patrol agents in May 2020. Thanks to his family’s resilience and the work of former Senior Border Patrol agent and Senior Intelligence agent Jenn Budd, we now know that the U.S. Border Patrol has Critical Incident Teams. These teams are on a mission to obstruct justice, intimidate witnesses and tamper with evidence. The last time we witnessed the work of this team was in June 2021, when a Border Patrol agent shot Marisol Garcia in the head. Marisol was later deported to Nogales, Sonora, despite having pieces of the bullet in her brain, without legal or medical assistance. The survivors of Border Patrol violence and impunity demand that U.S. authorities hold hearings into these clean-up teams and re-investigate all of their loved ones’ cases to see how these teams obstructed justice.
Today, Jose Antonio’s family and all Border Patrol victims continue the fight against impunity. Taide, Araceli, and many more count on people like you to support the movement to end Border Patrol’s pattern of violence. The 16 shots fired by Swartz were only the beginning of a struggle for the defense of memory, truth, and justice for border communities in the face of rapacious U.S. interventionism. Justice for Jose Antonio is Justice for Border Communities all over the world.