By Miriam Raftery
February 6, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) – The San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium (SDIRC) issued a press release last week headlined “Disturbing images show border agents encouraging children to shoot at migrant effigy.”
In response, U.S. Border Patrol Assistant Chief Patrol Agent Rosario “Pete” Vasquez called statements in that release “unfortunate and false propaganda.”
The SDIRC included a photo that purports to show a Border Patrol agent teaching a child to shoot at a target “dressed as a migrant” with the U.S.-Mexican border fence in the background. The release called the practice “unconscionable” and denounced the reaction as “symbolic of the agency’s unabashed culture of violence which has grown from a lack of accountability, oversight, and unprofessional standards that rebuke best practices involving use of force.”
But Vasquez told East County Magazine the fence shown is not the border fence and that the photo on the release was taken at a local exposition in June 2013 meant to “build relationships and increase awareness about law enforcement. ..The photos in question are from an activity about firearms safety at the event that allowed members of the community to fire a pepper ball launch system loaded with inert rounds filled with baby powder.” The activity was intended to show how agents can use non-lethal force to defuse a situation, aiming for legs or arms, he said.
He said the target is a standard type used by law enforcement and amateurs across the U .S. Clothing on the steel target diminishis chances of a ricochet and reduces dust from the talcum powder, he said. Vasquez denied that the target resembles a migrant, adding, “I wear jeans and a T-shirt everyday and I’m Hispanic, so I take offense at that statement.”
The event was held in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies and included other exhibits such as the USBP’s horse patrol, fire and emergency rescue services. The expo coincided with the Fallen Agent Memorial Run that agents participate in during their free time to honor Border Patrol agents lost in the line of duty and raise money for scholarships for high school children, he added.
But the SDIMC contends the incident is insensitive and symptomatic of broader problems. The group notes that USBP has come under scrutiny by Congress and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which have called for investigations by Homeland Secuirity of more than 20 killings of unarmed individuals since 2010. A Washington Post article indicated that recommendations urging restraint in use-of-force incidents were blacked out in a report by the Homeland Security Inspector General including recommendations by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), which was hired by Customs and Border Patrol to conduct an independent audit.
SDIRC has called on the Obama administration to release the PERF report.