Nogales, mexico – The corner of the street where José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, 16 years old, was shot to death by an agent of the US Border Patrol. UU Six years ago, it has become a sanctuary.
Every 10 of each month, one or more family members visit the corner to replace dried flowers with fresh flowers and light a candle on the cross that marks the place. It's on a street called Calle Internacional, next to a ruined house where the paint is crumbling on the walls.
On the other side of the street there is a small cliff about eight meters high, from which the metal fence rises above the line that divides Mexico and the United States.
The homes of Nogales, Arizona, can be seen through the poles, clearly better maintained than on the Mexican side of the border.
Taide Elena, Rodriguez's grandmother, points to the fence.
"Look how high the terrain is on that side of the border, that's where the Border Patrol was when they shot my grandson, who was standing here."
Rodriguez was hit at least 10 times, most of them behind. According to the Border Patrol, the shooting of agent Lonnie Swartz was in self-defense. Apparently, people threw stones at the border, which sometimes distracts Border Patrol guards from drug dealers climbing the fence.
"José Antonio was going to his house, which is a few blocks away from here, some other people were throwing stones and he went for a walk," Elena tells Al Jazeera.
|Taide Elena, 68, is standing by the cross where her grandson was killed. [Eline van Nes/Al Jazeera]|
The granular videos that exist show Swartz arriving at the scene, getting out of his car and starting to shoot quickly afterwards.
According to the testimony of other Border Patrol agents present, Swartz did not consult them before firing his weapon. Swartz fired 12 bullets, reloaded and then fired a little more. Court records show that there are several reports that describe between 14 and 30 shots.
Rodriguez was unarmed. According to prosecutors, he was beaten at least twice when he was lying on the ground, and said that Rodriguez was still alive at that time.
Although Elena has told the story many times, she begins to cry when she describes the moment she learned from prosecutors that Rodriguez crawled on the floor with 10 bullet holes in his body.
"He wanted to go around the corner," she says with tears in her eyes and her voice breaks. "I wanted to go home."
In April, Swartz was acquitted in a US federal court of second-degree murder. But the jury got bogged down on charges of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, so Swartz will be tried in a case that will begin on Tuesday.
There are no constitutional rights as Mexican.
Although Rodriguez's case does not stand on its own, there are at least six other known cases of Mexicans who have been killed by shots at the border. Experts explain that this is a particularly important case, since there is a judicial case at all.
In accordance with US law UU., Parents who are foreigners can not file a lawsuit in the US judicial system when the victim is in foreign territory when she is murdered, as judged by the Supreme Court in the case of the parents of Sergio Hernández, a Mexican teenager. who was killed by the Border Patrol in 2010.
The judges in the case questioned how allowing the parents of victims in Mexico to sue could be different from allowing the family of a victim of a US drone attack. UU File a complaint
The Mexican government can not do anything either. In the case of Hernández, the Mexican government filed charges, but the US government UU He refuses to extradite the Border Patrol agent to Mexico, effectively rendering him impotent.
However, in Rodriguez's case, US prosecutors filed charges against the Border Patrol agent.
In addition, a US federal appeals court. UU He also allowed Rodriguez's mother to sue Swartz in a civil case. In August, the court ruled that Rodríguez's citizenship is irrelevant in this case, stating that it would be "strange" for border agent Swartz to get immunity only because the boy he shot was not a US citizen.
If Swartz is found guilty of involuntary manslaughter or if Rodriguez's mother wins the civil suit, an important precedent will be established for other cases of cross-border violence by US agents.
Lee Gelernt, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who represents Rodriguez's mother, told Al Jazeera that "this case is of extraordinary importance, not only because of the grave injustice, but because it raises the issue of critical importance when the United States Constitution is applied across the border. "
Standing on the cross, Elena emphasizes this importance and explains why she feels the need to fight so hard for this case.
"Apparently, now the Border Patrol is free to shoot at anyone on the border," he says.
At least 97 deaths by border patrol.
At a protest in Nogales, Ariz., Earlier this year, Ana María Vázquez, a volunteer with the Border Patrol Victims organization and a good friend of the Rodríguez family, had put up banners with pictures of people who died at the hands of the Border Patrol. .
She points to one of them, Cruz Velázquez, 16 years old. Acevedo, who was caught trying to go through customs with a bottle of apple juice mixed with methamphetamine in 2013.
The video of the incident seems to show officials making him drink from the bottle. Three hours later, Velázquez died convulsing and screaming. Customs and Border Protection told US media last year that the officers were not disciplined by the incident. The United States settled with the family in 2017.
|A mural by José Rodríguez was painted just below where the Border Patrol agent fired through the wall. [Eline van Nes/Al Jazeera]|
Vazquez pointed to another person drawn on the banner, a pregnant woman.
Rubia Mabel Morales Alfaro, aged twenty-eight, was kicked by the Border Patrol when she was arrested trying to cross the border without proper documents near San Diego last January, according to her statement.
The woman shouted that she was pregnant when they kicked her, to which the Border Patrol official allegedly replied: "That's your problem." Morales Alfaro later aborted while in an immigration detention center in the United States. At that time, the Border Patrol told the local media that it had no knowledge of the incident.
"There are many more cases like these on my banner," said Vázquez, who is a displaced Colombian living in Mexico.
He began to draw the banner when he heard about Rodríguez's case and began to add other cases. Pretty soon she needed a second banner.
"We do not even know the names of some of the people I drew here, some cases are not very clear because the incident happened somewhere in the desert, some died because the Border Patrol did not get medical help soon enough."
According to Vázquez, Rodríguez's family is special because they are still fighting for justice.
Most people simply give up and try to forget, saddened by their loss and frustrated by the difficulty of demanding at least one hearing, he said.
The Guardian investigation showed that at least 97 people died in encounters with the US Border Patrol. UU
Claudia Patricia Gómez Gonzales, a 20-year-old indigenous Guatemalan woman who was gunned down by an agent of the Border Customs Police earlier this year, is number 98.
Border Patrol press spokesman Carlos Díaz did not comment on individual cases, but told Al Jazeera in an email that the Border Patrol is trained in emergency medicine and CPR.
"The US Border Patrol rescued nearly 3,000 people in fiscal year 2017 who were in danger, trapped with no means of escape or lost along the southern border," he said.
& # 39; What changed are the people & # 39;
Back in Mexico, along the fence on the American side where Swartz was shooting Rodriguez, there is a white and green Border Patrol car.
According to the Border Patrol, their agents are allowed to defend themselves when stones are thrown, a situation in which they say they met more frequently in recent years.
In a report, published late last year, the US Customs and Border Protection Office. UU He said there was a 73 percent increase in the stone throwing incidents in fiscal year 2017.
However, these numbers have been challenged and some point to the way in which incidents are measured. An encounter in Texas, for example, was measured as 126 separate rounds.
What would happen if a Mexican official had shot the United States and killed a US citizen? This would have been an international crisis.
Taide elena, The grandmother of jose anotonio elena rodriguez
On the other side of the border, next to the cross, Rodriguez's grandmother, Elena, says that the murder of her grandson fits into a general change that occurs on the border.
Having lived in Nogales for over 40 years, of which 20 were on the US side, he has witnessed this change. What used to be a simple division of barbed wire has become a fence with constant vigilance.
He also says that the attitudes of those who patrol the border have changed, especially since September 11.
"What changed is the people, some are still very nice, but some newcomers are openly racist, it has happened to me that they do not want me to give them the passport in their hands." [and] put on the table, "she says. Another aggressively interrogated me about my citizenship, even though I could simply see that I am a US citizen. "
She wonders what would have happened if all this had been the other way around. "What would happen if a Mexican official had shot the United States and killed a US citizen? This would have been an international crisis."