U.S. dismisses lawsuit over shooting of Mexican teen slain by Border Patrol agent

The U.S. Supreme Court barred a lawsuit against the Border Patrol agent, refusing to open the door for foreign nationals to pursue civil rights cases in American courts in such incidents

U.S. dismisses lawsuit over shooting of Mexican teen slain by Border Patrol agent
U.S. Border Patrol agent – Photo: Mike Blake/REUTERS
English 26/02/2020 19:42 Reuters Mexico City José Luis González, Stefanie Eschenbacher, Robert Birsel, Stefanie Eschenbacher, Tom Hogue, Andrew Chung, Lawrence Hurley, Stefanie Eschenbacher & Will Dunham/REUTERS Actualizada 20:15
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A Mexican mother whose teenage son, Sergio Adrián Hernández Guereca, was shot dead by a U.S. Border Patrol agent from the other side of the border 10 years ago fears a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday that barred her lawsuit could endanger others.

Earlier, the court ruled 5-4 to uphold a lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit against the agent, Jesus Mesa, who stood on the U.S. side when he shot across the border into the face of the 15-year-old.

Standing in a culvert right on the Mexican side of the border, clutching her son’s framed photograph, María Guadalupe Guereca said the ruling could embolden other U.S. Border Patrol agents.

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“They’ll feel that they have the right to kill innocent people, that they can continue killing children,” said Guereca, adding that her son had never caused her trouble.

“He was just a boy,” she said, in tears.

Mesa did not face criminal charges. U.S. Border Patrol has said the teenager had pelted its agents with rocks from the Mexican side.

The FBI accused him of being a migrant smuggler.

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Lawyers who represented the family said he was simply playing a game in which a group of teenagers would run across the culvert from the Mexican side and touch the U.S. border fence before running back.

Issued at a time of high tension between both countries, the ruling prevents civil rights lawsuits in U.S. federal courts involving such cross-border incidents when the person who is injured or killed is not on U.S. soil.

Later on Tuesday, the Mexican government said it is deeply concerned about the effects the decision would have on similar cases in which its citizens have died from gunshots fired by U.S. agents towards the Mexican side.

“I ask that they analyze the case,” said Guereca, who vowed to keep fighting for justice even as legal experts said she had run out of options.

“It’s not fair what they have done.”

The boy’s family sued in federal court seeking monetary damages, accusing Mesa of violating the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment ban on unjustified deadly force and the Fifth Amendment right to due process.

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The ruling, which matched the position taken by President Donald Trump’s administration in the case, also ended litigation involving a similar incident in which a Border Patrol agent fatally shot a 16-year-old Mexican named José Antonio Elena Rodríguez from across the border in Arizona.

“To be left with no remedy... given such a violent and unprovoked shooting weakens the constitutional foundation of America’s house,” said Robert Hilliard, a lawyer for Hernández’s family, adding that the ruling could “promote a Wild West attitude on our border.”

“The gravity of this ruling could not be clearer given the Trump administration’s militarized rhetoric and policies targeting people at the border,” said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the Rodríguez family.

The ruling was issued at a time of high tensions involving the southern border, where Trump is pursuing the construction of a wall separating the United States and Mexico.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, said the case presented “foreign relations and national security implications” and noted that Congress should decide whether such lawsuits can be permitted.

Alito added that the United States and Mexico have sought to resolve border issues through diplomacy and that U.S. Border Patrol agents have a key role in protecting national security, including illegal cross-border traffic.

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The incident took place on the border between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez in Mexico. Hernández was in a culvert located right on the border, just on the Mexican side.

In a dissenting opinion on behalf of the court’s liberals, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dismissed the national security concerns cited by the conservative majority.

“Mesa’s allegedly unwarranted deployment of deadly force occurred on United States soil. It scarcely makes sense for a remedy trained on deterring rogue officer conduct to turn upon a happenstance subsequent to the conduct - a bullet landing in one half of a culvert, not the other,” Ginsburg wrote.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency had no immediate comment. A lawyer for Mesa could not immediately be reached for comment.

Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a separate opinion, joined by fellow conservative Neil Gorsuch, agreeing with the outcome but calling for the court to throw out a broader precedent from 1971 that allows people to sue federal officials individually for civil rights violations.

The Supreme Court has been reluctant to extend the scope of civil rights protections. For example, in 2017, it ruled that U.S. officials who served under former President George W. Bush could not be sued over the treatment of non-U.S. citizen detainees rounded up in New York after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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