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Flagrant Human Rights Violations on U.S. Soil

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When most people think of the U.S.-Mexico border, they rarely think about a zone where U.S. policy and U.S. agents violate human rights on a daily basis. In the border region it is common practice. I know it doesn't sound possible or true, but it is real and happens regularly. Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The term "no one" means without exception, without conditions, without justification -- no one.

Over a year ago, Anastasio Hernandez Rojas was being deported to Tijuana, Mexico. U.S. official reports stated he was resisting and became combative. Officers used a tazer to subdue him. Anastasio was brain dead by the following day and the San Diego coroner ruled the death a homicide. Eyewitness accounts and video contradict the official report. According to many who saw the gruesome scene, Anastasio was held down by four officers, face down, while handcuffed behind his back. He was repeatedly shot with a tazer, kicked in the ribs and head and eventually fell unconscious. He left behind five U.S. citizen children. To date, no officers involved have been prosecuted and all details of the case remain confidential. Anastasio was unarmed.

Some may say Anastasio was in the country illegally and got what he deserved. That argument suggests we throw away the entire Declaration of Human Rights signed and co-authored by the United States over 60 years ago. The document was modeled after the U.S. Declaration of Independence where it is recognized, "all men are created equal." The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted and implemented by the United States and many other countries as a result of the atrocities of World War II so they would never be repeated under any circumstances or justification. Human rights protect all in all circumstances.

Several months ago I was with Jose Gutierrez Guzman and his fiancée Shena Wilson as Jose lay in a hospital bed fighting for his life. He was tazed and beaten by U.S. border officials. The official reports contradicted each other so wildly that the only logical conclusion was officials were engaged in a cover-up. Jose had two black eyes, cuts and bruises all over his body, his teeth were misaligned and he had sustained such a severe blow to the head he was now in a coma. The official report suggested Jose was shot with a tazer, fell on a rock and hit his head. All information about the case remains confidential and all officers involved are still on the job. Jose was unarmed. All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law -- Article 7 -- Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

One can argue that these are isolated incidents. The border region is a dangerous area and agents are merely defending themselves. If that is true, where is the transparency? Shouldn't isolated incidents of brutality be brought to justice? Shouldn't rogue law enforcement officers be reprimanded or fired? In these cases and many others, there is no oversight, claim of responsibility or culpability. In the past year alone there have been six reported cases of excessive force resulting in the death of migrants -- all of whom were unarmed. None of the details of any of these cases have been released to the public and all officers involved are still on the job. In addition there are literally thousands of cases of migrant death and systemic human rights abuses of migrants in detention facilities and during the repatriation process. All occur on U.S. soil.

On June 21, 2011, there was another killing of a migrant at the hands of U.S. border patrol. I was at the scene of the incident and saw the blood stained soil and bits of flesh in the dirt. I read the accounts in the newspapers and heard the reports in English and Spanish. All stories were different, all testimonies fell on deaf ears. No policies were changed. I am sure there is an official video-tape of the shooting and the rock throwing that allegedly caused the officers to open fire but then again, it is the border and we'll never get the facts or the truth and it's just another migrant that was killed.

The United States of America is actively participating in violations of human rights. These fundamental rights are non-conditional and mirror the founding principals of the our nation. U.S. policies must align with U.S. principles regardless of one's immigration status. According to the very first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. These sound like good American values but at the border, they don't exist.