FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Killing of Anastasio Hernández Rojas

Eyewitness accounts and video footage shown in a PBS documentary last week provide shocking proof that U.S. federal agents brutally beat Anastasio Hernández Rojas, tased him five times, and ultimately killed him—this while he lay on the ground with his arms handcuffed behind his back—in May 2010. The revelations in Crossing the Line at the Border provide a compelling counter to the official tale of what transpired, and have rightfully led to calls for accountability. Among the questions such calls raise are, what does accountability mean in such a case, and what should the parameters of the process be—that is, if a key goal is to prevent future instances of brutality?

Born in Mexico, Hernández Rojas arrived in the United States at the age of 16. For more than 27 years, he lived and labored here, where he married and had five children. In May 2010, after losing his construction job, he was arrested for shoplifting. When a background check showed that he was in the country without official sanction, the police turned him over to federal authorities, who deported him to Mexico. Not willing to accept exile from his wife and children, Hernandez Rojas quickly crossed back into the United States, but Border Patrol agents intercepted him in a remote area as he tried to head home.

At the detention facility, an agent allegedly assaulted and injured Hernández Rojas, which led him to express a desire to file a complaint. That same agent reportedly was one of two who drove him back—alone—to the port of entry in San Ysidro (the southernmost portion of San Diego) to deport him again. It was there, just a few feet from the actual boundary with Mexico, where the night-time, deadly assault took place, one involving over a dozen agents.

A San Diego County Medical Examiner’s report concluded that Hernandez Rojas’s death was a case of homicide. It was due to a heart attack—one induced by the shocks from the taser. (According to an Amnesty International report, 334 people died in the United States after being shocked with a taser, a supposedly non-lethal device, or a similar conducted-energy weapons between June 2001 and August 2008.) The 42-year-old father also sustained broken ribs; several loosened teeth; bruises all over his body and head, and injury to his spine.

What allowed the beating and electrocution to go legally unchallenged was the uncritical acceptance of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) account of events by authorities at various levels. According to the agency’s official story, agents did what they did because an un-handcuffed Hernández Rojas “became combative,” and the use of batons and the taser was necessary to “subdue the individual and maintain officer safety.”

The blatant nature of the brutality, the cover-up of what transpired, and what appear to be clear violations of the law have helped to provoke widespread outcry. From press conferences, to an online petition and myriad news reports, pressure is mounting on federal authorities to conduct a far-reaching investigation of Hernández Rojas’s death.

More broadly, advocates—such as John Carlos Frey, a documentary filmmaker and an investigative reporter involved with the making of Crossing the Line at the Border—point to an institutional culture of impunity that allows killings by Border Patrol agents to go virtually unexamined outside the agency. Frey also highlights the rush to recruit ever-more agents in the aftermath of 9-11, and lowered standards of recruitment and training, in trying to explain “at least eight documented cases of extreme use of force against unarmed and non-combative migrants resulting in death” at the hands of the Border Patrol since May 2010.

Whether or not relatively new agents recruited and trained under less rigorous criteria are responsible for the deaths is not known as the CBP hasn’t even released the names of the agents involved. But, perhaps more importantly, the effect of such a line of argument is to suggest that better qualified agents are the answer to the problem.

No doubt, rigorous screening of applicants and good training, and some sort of public oversight mechanism, are very preferable to the lack thereof. But in privileging such factors, what gets obscured is the everyday violence—and death and suffering—that federal boundary and immigration enforcement apparatus brings about through its normal practices.

Over the last couple of decades, many thousands of migrants have lost their lives trying to traverse the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and enter the United States—in order to find work, or rejoin loved ones. U.S. authorities have also sent millions into exile abroad, many of them long-standing U.S. residents with almost non-existent ties to their countries of birth. In the process they have separated hundreds of thousands of children from parents. They have also reduced the life spans of many deportees: in a particularly egregious case, one of the first individuals “removed” to Haiti after the Obama administration resumed deportations to the earthquake-ravaged country in 2011 lost his life to cholera soon after his arrival.

The law and the institutionalized nature of the practices that produce these outcomes help to obscure the violence they embody—and the related death and suffering. But just because many do not see the violence for what it is—as death-producing—does not mean it is anything less.

From the very establishment of the U.S.-Mexico boundary, killing people and denying life has been central to what the international divide is all about. After all, its foundation necessitated a war of conquest and the dispossession of the Native and Mexicano populations in the borderlands. And, in the face of so many who refuse to accept the original injustice, its maintenance has required various forms of violence on a regular basis ever since. More broadly, in a world of profound inequality, one predicated on the production of differences such as those based on race, class, and nation, the boundary reflects and helps reproduce who gets what in terms of rights and resources, and the very nature of life and death—and the various states in between.

Anastasio Hernández Rojas was born on the wrong side of the boundary dividing people and places of privilege from those of disadvantage. Like countless others in the eyes of the U.S. ruling class, he thus became disposable. When U.S. authorities deported Hernández Rojas to Mexico and deprived him of his right to be with his family, they effectively denied his right to live. And when they beat and tased him to death, they did so as well.

Realizing justice—achieving true accountability—for Anastasio Hernández Rojas’s murder requires that we go far beyond the parameters of his particular case. It necessitates that we contest the very socio-territorial arrangement that made him disposable in the first place. Otherwise, we will end up affirming and strengthening a boundary that grants life to some, and consigns others to death.

Joseph Nevins teaches geography at Vassar College. He is the author of Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid (City Lights Books, 2008) and Operation Gatekeeper and Beyond: The War on “Illegals” and the Remaking of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary (Routledge, 2010).

This article was originally published by NACLA.

More articles by:
June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rubenstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail