BY JOANNA WILLIAMS | April 27, 2018
October 10, 2012, the night José Antonio Elena Rodriguez was killed by Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz, was a devastating moment for José Antonio’s family and friends. They have struggled to keep the memory of José Antonio’s life and the injustice of his death in the minds of local citizens and state and federal governments on both sides of the border. At the Kino Border Initiative, we have stood with his family in their grief and their persistent fight for justice. As such, we accompany them in their sorrow today given the jury’s decision to declare Lonnie Swartz not guilty of second-degree murder.
We also remember other victims who have been unjustly killed by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents while on Mexican soil, such as José Alfredo Yanez Reyes in Tijuana, Sergio Adrian Hernández Guereca in Cd. Juárez, Antonio Perez Ramirez in San Luis Colorado, Ramsés Barrón Torres in Nogales, Guillermo Arévalo Pedraza in Nuevo Laredo, and Juan Pablo Pérez Santillán in Matamoros. All of those who are responsible for these deaths are free from punishment, and none of the victims nor their family members have ever been afforded a path to justice.
KBI has consistently advocated for reform of CBP policies and protocol, as well as for greater accountability and oversight of CBP, to ensure that the dignity of border residents and migrants is upheld. Today’s verdict demonstrates the persistent obstacles to accountability in Border Patrol that remain, particularly when it comes to use of force. We continue to call for measures to prevent future deaths, including an increase in staffing levels for personnel involved in oversight, the implementation of body-worn cameras with robust privacy and accountability protocols, and a more transparent and accessible complaint process. These steps are critical to ensure the safety and well-being for border residents and migrants who are detained by Border Patrol.
José Antonio’s family has been committed in its demands for justice, which resulted in the historic decision to charge Lonnie Swartz with second-degree murder. Despite today’s decision, we will continue to stand with the Elena Rodriguez family and all those who have fallen victim to Border Patrol abuse. We recommit to tirelessly fighting for policies and practices that could prevent future deaths.
Joanna Williams is the Director of Education and Advocacy at the Kino Border Initiative, a Jesuit mission that responds to the needs of migrants at the US/Mexico border. She earned her BSFS in International Culture and Politics from Georgetown University.