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Death at the Border: Bringing out the Worst in the Immigration Debate

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In a recent post, I wrote about how violent crime is down in states that border Mexico. This is true despite the repeated fear-mongering of right-wingers, who insist that millions of illegal immigrants are swarming American cities to murder, rape, and desecrate at will.

As it turns out, however, this week offered a spectacularly bloody example of violence along the border. Unfortunately, the violence was committed by us.

You've heard, no doubt, that a fifteen-year-old boy was gunned down near Cuidad Juarez. A U.S. Border Patrol agent shot the teen, supposedly because the boy was among a crowd of Mexican kids throwing rocks at the agent, who feared for his life. Others have said that the agent freaked out and started firing into Mexico, killing a kid who was no threat.

The victim, Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, was either "a straight-A student" or a "repeat juvenile offender" with a "history of involvement with human smuggling," depending whose story you believe. Of course, that doesn't really matter. Either the action was self-defense, or it was murder.

I don't know if the shooting was legit. From this one video clip, it certainly looks like the Border Agent overreacted. But to verify that, we need an investigation.

One would think this is a fairly reasonable request. However, the opinion of many on the right is that even looking into the shooting is an unpatriotic travesty. We've heard that the agent should get a medal, and that questioning his decision to open fire is nothing more than liberal, hate-America, criminal-coddling demagoguery. But that's not the most intense aspect of this story.

For that, one needs only to read the online comments posted about the shooting. My favorite was the straightforward "One down, 12 million to go." We'll set aside the fact that the boy was not actually one of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in America (his body was found in Mexico). The implication, of course, is that we need a systematic liquidation of the undocumented.

I have to assume that the commentator was spouting off and didn't mean his post to be a call to genocide (of course, who really knows). But many others have posted similar sentiments.

The point is that regardless of one's opinion of illegal immigration, it is beyond vile to gloat about a teenage boy getting a bullet in the head. It's particularly grotesque that many of the people who post such comments consider themselves fine examples of American virtue and/or Christian compassion.

Just recently, I wrote that sending more troops to the border seemed odd unless they were authorized to use lethal force. And in such cases, "I doubt that all but the most hardened Minuteman will be indifferent to the inevitable sight of a gunned-down family."

Clearly, I was wrong. Many Americans are so full of the milk of human kindness that it causes them not one pang of disgust to hear about a child shot down. In fact, to many, it may even be a cause for rejoicing.

I've written that the first step in immigration reform is to see the undocumented as humans, rather than as some virus that needs to be eradicated. This seemingly obvious statement, unfortunately, needs to be reiterated from time to time.

Again, when it comes to this case, I don't know if the Border Patrol agent was justified or if he's some trigger-happy nut. But it certainly isn't un-American to ask the question.

Nor is it admirable to do online cartwheels when a teenager gets killed. And that's true, as hard as it is for some people to believe, even if the kid is Mexican.