From Los Angeles to Boston, protesters rallied in eight different cities nationwide Thursday to demand that the Department of Justice conduct a more thorough investigation into the beating, tasing, and subsequent death of undocumented immigrant Anastasio Hernandez Rojas at the hands of border patrol agents.
Hernandez-Rojas's death, which occurred in 2010, re-entered the national debate two weeks ago when PBS unearthed footage of the incident that occurred between the Mexican citizen and border patrol agents. According to the documentary, Hernandez Rojas was hogtied, surrounded by more than a dozen officers and pleading for help when he was tased.
While the Department of Justice maintains that it has been investigating the incident, critics say the agency has done almost nothing in the two years since Hernandez-Rojas's death, and that his death is representative of a pattern of impunity around border patrol abuse.
"Attorney General Holder has not asked for the footage; not sought out the witnesses. He has not done anything on this case. It's not going anywhere," said Roberto Lovato, the director of Presente.org, one the nonprofits that helped coordinate protests across the country.
Department of Justice Spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa told The Huffington Post that the "department's investigation remains ongoing," adding, "we will continue to review of all of the facts and evidence to determine whether there was a violation of federal law."
Hinojosa declined to comment on the accusation that DOJ has neither reached out to witnesses of the beating nor requested the new footage released two weeks ago by PBS.
At Thursday's rallies and press conferences, activists demanded justice for Hernandez-Rojas. In the two weeks since the footage aired on PBS, organizers collected over 32,000 signatures on an online petition about the case.
“Anastasio’s story is a strong reminder to all of us of how far we need to go to reform our system," said Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), who represents the San Diego area, where Hernandez-Rojas lived for many years.
"This is part of a pattern of abuse and impunity by border patrol that has existed in our country for a very long time," said Christian Ramirez, the director of Southern Border Communities Coalition, one of the groups that organized Thursday's events.
Civil rights complaints filed against the nation's border patrol agency have increased substantially in recent years. In 2004, lawyers and individuals who had contact with border patrol agencies filed 34 complaints. In 2010, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 65 complaints were made against the agency. And between January and June of 2011 alone, 81 new complaint investigations were opened against border patrol.
"Anastasio Hernandez Rojas is not the first, and since his beating seven others have been killed," Ramirez told The Huffington Post. "Border patrol agents have acted with impunity and violence for many years. And if immediate steps are not taken by US Congress and a transparent complaint process cases like Anastasio's will continue to happen on our border."
The death of Sergio Hernandez-Guereca, a 15-year-old Mexican boy killed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent in 2010, is one of these instances of impunity, Ramirez said. Although the U.S. prosecutor decided last week not to charge the agent in Hernandez-Guereca's death, the boy's family announced that they would press on with their lawsuit, saying that there was no evidence their son had done anything wrong.
Ana Perez, an organizer for Presente.Org, said she was disappointed by the lack of English-language coverage the story has received in the media.
"The message we're getting is that in English press, no one wants to hold the Obama administration responsible. We had only one English outlet out there, and maybe three or four Spanish outlets," she said.
Perez noted that in comparison to case of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, black teenager who was killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in Florida, the story has gotten very little media attention.
"It's much easier for the media to go after an individual like Zimmerman, who is not a government official. Nobody wants to go after a federal agency and government agents, I suppose," she said.
Lovato of Presente.Org told The Huffington Post that the Hernandez-Rojas case will determine how future deaths on the border are handled by the government.
"If we don't get justice for this now, the abuses on the border will only get worse," he said.
The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Worst: Arizona SB 1070
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. The law was widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It required state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there was "reasonable suspicion" that the individual was undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believed was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010, immediately generating a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. In July 2010 and February 2012, federal judges blocked different provisions of SB 1070, setting the stage for the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/25/sb1070-ruling-supreme-court_n_1614119.html" target="_hplink">the Supreme Court decision of June 25, 2012</a> which struck down multiple provisions but upheld the controversial "papers please" provision, a centerpiece of the law which critics say will lead to racial profiling
Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>