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."
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