Sixteen members of Congress are demanding that the federal government investigate the death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, an undocumented immigrant who tased and beaten by U.S. Border Patrol agents.
Although Hernandez Rojas' death occurred two years ago, new footage released in the PBS documentary "Crossing the Line" calls into question the use of force by agents. According to the documentary, Hernandez Rojas was on the U.S.-Mexico border in June 2010 when he was hog-tied, surrounded by more than a dozen agents, then shot with a stun gun while pleading for help.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) insisted that Hernandez Rojas' behavior necessitated the use of a baton and stun gun. CBP reports maintained that he “became combative,” and the baton and stun gun were used to “subdue the individual and maintain officer safety.” He died shortly after the incident. But some say the new footage reveals the use of excessive force by border agents.
Demanding justice for Hernandez Rojas and reform of the Border Patrol's use-of-force policies, 15 members of the House of Representatives and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote letters on Thursday to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Office of the Inspector General.
The members of Congress maintain that the Department of Justice has been too slow to investigate the incident.
"The disturbing footage and eye-witness accounts that aired on PBS raise serious questions about the Border Patrol’s role in the death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas and after two years, we owe it to his family to finally provide some definitive answers,” Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), one of the signees, said in a statement to the press.
Activists who seek justice in the Hernandez Rojas case, such as Roberto Lovato, said the DOJ has made little effort to investigate the Border Patrol agents' actions.
"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 Lovato, director of Presente.org, one the nonprofits that helped coordinate protests across the country.
When contacted for comment, DOJ spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa told The Huffington Post that the "department's investigation remains ongoing."
"We will continue to review of all of the facts and evidence to determine whether there was a violation of federal law," said Hinojosa.
The 16 members of Congress also say that Hernandez Rojas' death calls for a review of CBP's policy on force.
“I believe that CBP policies need a full review, followed by appropriate reforms. Any ambiguity or lack of accountability that could lead to violence must be eliminated,” Rep. José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), one of the signees, said in a press statement.
Critics of the CBP said this case is part of a recent increase in violent acts committed by Border Patrol agents.
Civil rights complaints filed against the federal agency have increased substantially in recent years. In 2004, lawyers and individuals who had contact with the Border Patrol filed 34 complaints. In 2010, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 65 complaints were made against the agency. Between January and June 2011, 81 new complaint investigations were opened against Border Patrol.
Last week, rallies and press conferences occurred in eight different cities across the country, with protesters calling for a full investigation into the death. Organizers collected more than 32,000 signatures on an online petition, which made the same demands.
"For years I have heard serious concerns expressed by the communities along the border that the Border Patrol is occasionally violent and only rarely accountable," said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), another signee and an outspoken advocate of immigration reform.
"I hope this incident leads to concrete reforms that prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again."
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 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
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
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>
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)
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 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>