Immigration & Labor

Crossing the Line at the Border

Eight people have been killed along the Mexican border in the past two years. Did US immigration agents use excessive force? This is the first of a three-part investigation; see Part 2 and Part 3.
Crossing the Line at the Border aired on PBS Need to Know on April 20, 2012
PBS NEED TO KNOW
Crossing the Line at the Border aired on PBS Need to Know on April 20, 2012

In partnership with the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute, Need to Know investigates whether U.S. border agents have been using excessive force in an effort to curb illegal immigration. Eight people have been killed along the border in the past two years. One man died a short time after being beaten and tased, an event recorded by two eyewitnesses whose video is the centerpiece of the report. Both eyewitnesses say the man offered little or no resistance. One told Need to Know that she felt like she watched someone being “murdered,” and the San Diego coroner's office classified the death as a “homicide.”

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The report raises questions about accountability. Because border agents are part of the Department of Homeland Security, they are not subjected to the same public scrutiny as police officers who use their weapons. It also questions whether, in the rush to secure the border, agents are being adequately trained. And it raises the question: why aren't these cases being prosecuted?

Watch Crossing the line at the border on PBS. See more from Need To Know.

Research support for this story was provided by The Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.

NEED TO KNOW UPDATE 4/27/12:

An update of the April 20, 2012 Need to Know report about possible abuses by U.S. border agents.

  • Abuse of Force at the Border

    Read more from our award-winning series “Abuse of Force at the Border,” which exposes excessive use of force by U.S. Border Patrol agents. The series culminated in a review of force by Customs and Border Protection and agency-wide reforms.

There have been at least eight killings along the U.S./Mexico border in the past two years. Our report focused on the death of one illegal immigrant whose beating and tasing by border agents was captured on videotape: Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, a 42-year-old Mexican was illegally crossing over the border when he was caught by U.S. border patrol. Eyewitness video caught the sounds of Hernandez Rojas pleading for help while he was, according to witness, being beaten by border agents. And this never-before-seen video of the incident shows him being tasered repeatedly, while surrounded by more than a dozen officers.

It turned out that at the time of the tasing Hernandez Rojas was handcuffed and according to witnesses, not resisting.

Since our broadcast aired, the story has received national attention: This past Monday, human rights advocates and Hernandez Rojas’s family held a press conference in San Diego demanding justice and a federal investigation into the incident. And a national online Latino advocacy group, presente.org, has been circulating a petition addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder demanding that the justice department investigate the incident immediately. The petition has more than 31,000 signatures.

Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva is a member of the Hispanic caucus and represents a district in Arizona that shares a 300-mile border with Mexico. Grijalva tells us that members of congress have, in the past, inquired about the case of Hernandez Rojas, but have heard nothing from the justice department.

Watch Update: Crossing the line on PBS. See more from Need To Know.

About the reporter

John Carlos Frey

John Carlos Frey

John Carlos Frey is an investigative reporter and documentary filmmaker based in Los Angeles.