Crossing the line at the border (“Need to Know” video)/ Grand jury inquiry into the homicide of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas

In partnership with the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute, Need to Know investigates whether U.S. border agents have been using excessive force in an effort to curb illegal immigration. Eight people have been killed along the border in the past two years. One man died a short time after being beaten and tased, an event recorded by two eyewitnesses whose video is the centerpiece of the report. Both eyewitnesses say the man offered little or no resistance. One told Need to Know that she felt like she watched someone being “murdered,” and the San Diego coroner’s office classified the death as a “homicide.”

The report raises questions about accountability. Because border agents are part of the Department of Homeland Security, they are not subjected to the same public scrutiny as police officers who use their weapons. It also questions whether, in the rush to secure the border, agents are being adequately trained. And it raises the question: why aren’t these cases being prosecuted?

Part one:

en espanol:

Part two:

Need to Know
continues its investigation into alleged abuses by U.S. Border Patrol agents and officers on American soil. Correspondent John Larson investigates stories of physical abuse, sexual assault, and even torture.

This week, Need to Know travels to the border town of Nogales, Mexico to speak with recently deported immigrants living in a migrant shelter. Although Customs and Border Protection provide public reports of complaints of poor treatment, the official numbers pale in comparison to what occurs on the ground. Migrants spoke extensively about massive over-crowding and mistreatment of detainees in U.S. Border Patrol detention facilities. We heard stories of physical abuse from detainees who claim they were deprived of food, water and medical care. We even heard allegations of torture.

To take a closer look at these allegations, our team traveled deep into the mountains of central Mexico to speak with a woman who says she was sexually assaulted by a Border Patrol officer. Correspondent John Larson speaks with a former Border Patrol agent turned whistleblower, who describes deplorable conditions in detention centers.

Border Patrol has strict guidelines on the treatment of migrants staying in detention centers. These guidelines include consequences for agents and officers who break the rules. Our report investigates whether Border Patrol policies— and even international law—are being broken in the rush to secure the U.S. border.

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Web exclusive: Grand jury to investigate death at the border
Elisabeth Ponsot
July 20, 2012

In May, 2010, a grainy cellphone video captured an eyewitness account of US Customs and Border Protection officers beating Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, an undocumented immigrant who lived and worked in San Diego.

The footage shows Hernandez Rojas on the ground, handcuffed and surrounded by more than a dozen officers who punched, kicked and shocked the Mexican-born father of five with a Taser. Hernandez Rojas can be heard in the background of one video begging for mercy.

Hernandez Rojas succumbed to his injuries a few days later, dying under circumstances the San Diego coroner classified as “homicide.” Despite witnesses who pointed to alleged abuse by Border Patrol, an investigation by San Diego police resulted in no indictments against any of the officers involved.

For video of the interview:

Two years after the death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, an emotional interview with Andrea Guerrero of Equality Alliance. Edited by Elisabeth Ponsot.

PBS Need to Know with assistance from the Nation Institute produced a groundbreaking report on Hernandez Rojas’ death, which led to greater scrutiny by public officials and other media outlets. Following two years of inaction, a federal grand jury was convened on July 12 to investigate the incident, according to the Associated Press.

Peter Nunez, a former U.S. attorney in San Diego who is not working on the Hernandez Rojas case told the AP that “when a prosecutor looks at a case, you can decide no crime has been committed, you close the case and move on. That obviously hasn’t happened in this case. The fact that there’s a grand jury means it has progressed to the next level, if you will.”

Prior to summer reports of a grand jury probe, Need to Know traveled to San Diego to speak with Andrea Guerrero, the Executive Director of the Equality Alliance who has advocated on behalf of Hernandez Rojas’ family since his death.

In the emotional interview, Guerrero expressed frustration with what was then a stagnant case, despite two years of activism. “It seems to me that if we can’t get it right on Anastasio’s case that we’re going to have a hard time getting it right,” she said. “Anastasio’s case is emblematic of what went wrong and it could be emblematic of what we do to fix it.”

“Crossing the Border” has been produced with assistance from the Nation Institute and the Investigative News Network.


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