More deaths on Mexican border

Before dawn on Feb. 8, near Silverbell, Arizona, two men fired high-powered assault rifles at a pickup truck carrying migrants who had just crossed the border on their way to Phoenix. Three migrants—one Mexican man, one Guatemalan man and one Mexican woman—were killed, and one woman was seriously wounded. The alleged guide leading the trip, a man from Mexico, was shot in the hand and is under arrest. The driver of the pickup and some two dozen other migrants remain missing. Four witnesses who survived have told conflicting stories about the details about the shooting. It is not clear whether the attack was the work of rival smugglers, extremist vigilantes or what are known as bajadores—crews of bandits who steal human cargo from smugglers to extort ransom from migrants’ families. (Washington Post, Feb. 19; Arizona Daily Star, Feb. 28; New York Times, Feb. 9)

A few days after the assault near Silverbell, two men were found dead in the desert west of Phoenix. The week of Feb. 12, Pima County authorities found a body in the desert; the person had apparently been dead for two weeks. Authorities believe all three deaths were connected to smuggling.

On Jan. 28, a truckload of illegal immigrants was ambushed in the desert near Eloy, and the driver of the truck was shot to death. Migrants who witnessed the attack said the assailants were several armed men wearing camouflage clothing and military-style berets. Three were white; one was described as a Hispanic who spoke limited Spanish. Activists believe the assailants were anti-immigrant vigilantes. (WP, Feb. 19; Arizona Republic, Linda Valdez opinion column, Feb. 18; New York Times, Feb. 9)

Border agents shoot at migrants

On Feb. 13, a Border Patrol agent fired at least one shot at a group of migrants along the border near downtown El Paso, Texas. Doug Mosier, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, said the agent, who was not identified, fired at the migrants after some of them began throwing rocks at him. The migrants ran south from the border after the agent fired. Border Patrol officials do not believe anyone was injured; Mexican authorities who responded to the scene in Mexico also did not report any injuries, Mosier said. The shooting is under investigation. (Associated Press, Feb. 14)

On Feb. 20, a Border Patrol agent opened fire on a migrant in a similar incident near Otay Lakes, California. According to Border Patrol Agent Wendi Lee, the agent fired one shot when the migrant picked up a rock and cocked back an arm as if to throw it at him; nobody was reported injured, and the migrant escaped. (North County Times, CA, Feb. 21)

On Feb. 21, a Border Patrol agent shot and wounded a man at a gas station in Rio Rico, near Nogales in Santa Cruz County, Arizona. According to County Sheriff Tony Estrada, the man was shot after he became argumentative and threatened a group of agents with rocks. The man was flown to a Tucson hospital, where he was reported in stable condition with a wound in his arm and a grazing wound in his torso, Estrada said. The FBI is investigating the victim on suspicion of assaulting a federal officer. The Border Patrol agent who fired the shots has been placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard agency protocol, said Border Patrol Tucson Sector spokesperson Gustavo Soto. (Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Feb. 22)

On Feb. 24, a Border Patrol agent fired at an oncoming sport utility vehicle on Arizona highway 286 just north of the Sasabe port of entry. One person who was in the vehicle at the time apparently suffered minor injuries and is now in custody on unspecified charges. It was not clear whether the person was wounded by gunfire. Another passenger in the vehicle was also taken into custody. Border Patrol spokesperson Jesus Rodriguez said agents found 1,300 pounds of drugs in the SUV. The agent has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into the shooting. (Arizona Daily Star, Feb. 26)

The latest non-fatal shootings come just over a month after a Border Patrol agent shot and killed Mexican migrant Francisco Javier Dominguez Rivera in southern Arizona on Jan. 12.

From Immigration News Briefs, March 4

See our last posts on the struggle for the border and the immigration crackdown.