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.
A press conference in Los Angeles, calling for justice for Hernandez-Rojas
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