A migrant reads the sign that indicates the location of the border between Mexico and the United States. – Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, 08-28-2021 (Shutterstock)
By Anita Snow, AP
PHOENIX (AP) — Customs and Border Protection officials say a migrant who died of gunshot wounds after a weekend encounter with a Border Patrol agent was shot while being detained following an escape attempt.
A CBP statement released Wednesday said the migrant was shot after two agents from a horse patrol unit responded around 9 p.m. Saturday to reports of migrants detected in a remote, mountainous area about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northeast of Douglas, Arizona. It was the agency’s most detailed account of what happened.
A month earlier, new CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus was sworn in after a term as police chief in Tucson, where he overhauled the department’s use-of-force policy and pushed for more accountability. Use-of-force issues are among many challenges Magnus faces in his new role.
The CBP said the migrant was shot in the area known as Skeleton Canyon after the agents apprehended three migrants in the U.S. illegally and spotted a fourth trying to get away.
One agent followed that person downhill into the canyon, “and while taking him into custody discharged his firearm fatally wounding the migrant.” That agent has not been identified.
Agents called for backup, and another two migrants from the same group were found and detained.
Ricardo Pineda, who heads Mexico’s consulate in Douglas, confirmed Wednesday it has contacted the family of the deceased, a Mexican citizen, and will help as needed. He said authorities have been asked to conduct an investigation that strictly follows the law.
“This is very worrisome for us,” said Pineda. “We are expecting a very thorough investigation on this.”
The Pima County Medical Examiner said an autopsy determined the migrant died from multiple gunshot wounds. It said it would have no more information until the final examination report is released.
The CBP said the shooting is under investigation by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department and the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office and under review by the CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
At the conclusion of a review, the shooting will be assessed by CBP’s National Use of Force Review Board.
Former CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske pushed to change Border Patrol use-of-force policies after taking office in 2014. He made those policies public and required agents to carry and be trained in the use of less-lethal weapons before he retired in early 2017 at the beginning of former President Donald Trump’s administration.
Kerlikowske also instructed the Border Patrol under his watch to put out a statement within four hours and hold a news conference within 24 hours after use-of-force incidents.
Agents have been involved in an increasing number of use-of-force incidents in recent years. During Trump’s final 28 months in office, CBP recorded a monthly average of 50 use-of-force incidents. Under President Joe Biden, incidents increased by 20 to a monthly average of 70.
There also have been more fatalities involving Border Patrol agents, though the number of encounters with migrants has surged at an even higher rate.
Nearly 60 Border Patrol encounters resulted in deaths in 2021, three times as many as in 2019 and four times as many as the decade’s yearly average.