Two-Year Anniversary of Hernandez Shooting 5/21/99

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Residents of the border town of Redford, Texas, mourned yesterday the two-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Esequiel Hernandez by US Marines on anti-drug patrol. Hernandez was 18 at the time of his death, and was out herding the family sheep when he was tracked and killed by a camouflaged, four-marine patrol on the lookout for drug smugglers and illegal aliens. Hernandez was carrying an old .22 rifle that he used to scare off snakes and other predators. The killing was the first of an American citizen by an active duty soldier.

Rev. Mel LaFolette, a resident of Redford, and a member of a delegation that visited Washington after the shooting in 1997, told the Week Online, "The community is still outraged at what happened. Even though there's been a payment of money by the government, no one believes that justice has been done."

Rev. LaFolette believes "it's both a complete irresponsibility and recklessness at the level of administration and poor training, but I believe the individuals also have some responsibility for what happened. There's plenty of guilt to go around."

Some observers believe the Marines acted according to their training, but were deployed on a type of mission -- civilian law enforcement -- for which the military is wholly unsuited, causing them to make a complete misreading of the situation, leading to the tragedy.

Residents are also angered by the way the Border Patrol characterized their community to the Marine patrollers -- full of narcotraffickers, a hostile entity, be suspicious of everybody. "We were slandered by the Border Patrol," said LaFolette. Nevertheless, the Border Patrol has made "no apology for the calumniation of the people of Redford."

LaFolette remarked that "everybody on the border, including tourists, fits the [Border Patrol's] description of a drug trafficker," explaining, "Any tourist with a backpack first the description. A woman with a plastic bag of groceries fits the description."

We've been told, but have not confirmed, that a demonstration will take place this Saturday (5/22), noon, in the park straddling El Paso and its sister city across the border, Juarez, Mexico. To confirm, and for information, call the Immigration Law Enforcement Monitoring Project (ILEMP) El Paso office at (915) 577-0724.

The following is a statement from the American Friends Service Committee (of which ILEMP is a project), followed by an excerpt from ILEMP director Maria Jimenez's comments to In-Motion magazine, the statement of Rep. James Traficant (D-OH) supporting legislation he introduced that would dramatically increase the level of militarization of the border, and links to extensive background information on the Hernandez tragedy and an online photo gallery in memory of Esequiel Hernandez and the tragedy.


Today, the American Friends Service Committee remembers Esequiel Hernandez, Jr. of Redford, Texas. On this day two years ago, Hernandez, an 18 year old goatherd, was shot and killed in his own field by a US Marine working on a drug surveillance operation.

Outcry from the Redford community and from sympathetic voices nationwide led to a Pentagon statement earlier this year that the use of ground troops for armed, covert anti-drug efforts would be suspended. However, the AFSC remains very concerned that such operations could easily resume without the knowledge of the communities in which they take place. There is no legal bar to doing so, and no external oversight policy exists to inform the public about such activities. The operations are only identified after something goes wrong -- like the Hernandez shooting.

Despite the obvious reluctance of the Pentagon to continue such operations, Rep. James Traficant of Ohio has reintroduced a bill this year that would ease the way for military troops to help patrol the border. He claims such aid is "desperately needed" to stem the wave of drugs into the US.

AFSC is also concerned about the continued partnership of the military, the Border Patrol, and local law enforcement (including the sharing of equipment, intelligence, and training) in the name of drug enforcement. This collusion contributes to the overall militarization of border communities, endangering and infringing on the civil and human rights of all members of the community.


That problem, the problem of the national perception of viewing the border as a war zone and immigrants as enemies and subsequently border communities -- you can conclude when you have military patrols in your town that somehow somebody thought you were the enemies of this country -- that was why we were losing.

The Esequiel Hernandez case highlighted the very serious nature of how we were defining our border politics with respect to, in this particular case, the drug issue. Redford had not seen an arrest of a drug trafficker in ten years according to the DEA (federal Drug Enforcement Administration).

Again it's because of these perceptions that people have in the interior of the country. There's drugs in Washington DC, why don't they put covert military operations in Washington, DC? The border is viewed as a war zone, where evil enters, as if economic problems ended and began at the border. Particularly the populations at the border are seen as suspect.

I remember the words of Enrique Madrid, one of the residents of Redford who went to Washington, when he said, "My grandfather was one of the original founders of Redford". He had the charter that his grandfather had for the land at Redford. Generations grew up in Redford. He served his country in the military. In many different ways they built the community. Now all of a sudden there are covert operations, "My God we suddenly realized we were an enemy."

The perception is that there are expendable populations in terms of what we would call democratic institutions. With all its sophistication, the military in the training of these Marines could not tell the difference between the good guy and the bad guy, so to speak. This shepherd fit the profile of a drug-runner. So if he fit the profile of a drug-runner then it means everybody on the border fits the profile of a drug-runner. There are stereotypic views that are concretized into policy and institutionalized.


in the House of Representatives


Mr. TRAFICANT. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of legislation I introduced on February 8, 1999, which would authorize the deployment of US troops to assist law enforcement in patrolling US borders. I urge all Members to cosponsor this important piece of legislation.

Our current program to stop drugs from coming into America is a joke. Eighty percent of the cocaine and heroin smuggled into America is transited across the US-Mexico border. We are losing the war on drugs. If hundreds of thousands of US soldiers can be sent all over the world to protect other countries, certainly a few thousand can be redeployed here in the US to help protect America from the scourge of drugs.

My bill, H.R. 628, authorizes the Department of Defense to assign US troops to assist federal law enforcement in monitoring and patrolling US borders, and inspecting cargo, vehicles and aircraft at points of entry into the US Under the bill such assistance could be provided only at the express request of the US Attorney General or Secretary of the Treasury. The bill also mandates special law enforcement training for troops deployed to border areas, requires all US troops patrolling the border to be accompanied by federal law enforcement agents, bars soldiers from making arrests, and requires the federal government to notify state and local government officials of any deployment of US troops. Last year the House overwhelmingly approved a similar provision that I sponsored as an amendment to the FY 1999 DoD bill. The amendment, however, was dropped during a House-Senate conference.

Make no mistake about it, the Border Patrol, INS and Customs Service desperately need the help our military could provide. For example, only three out of every 100 trucks coming into the US from Mexico are inspected. In addition, recent news reports reveal that the INS is considering releasing thousands of dangerous illegal aliens currently being held in detention centers because of funding and manpower shortages. And finally, in just the last year, federal agents in one border sector alone seized 132 tons of marijuana and more than 3 tons of cocaine worth a total of $408 million.

I recently cosigned a letter with a number of my colleagues imploring the President to fill a backlog of vacant Border Patrol positions. But clearly this is not enough. By the time those positions are filled with qualified candidates, who knows how many more illegal drugs will hit our streets and reach our children?

Mr. Speaker, it's time to put a stranglehold on our borders once and for all. I urge all members to cosponsor H.R. 628.


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