More oversight needed for Border Patrol

03/26/2014 5:53 PM

03/26/2014 5:55 PM

The U.S. Border Patrol has taken some steps this month that it hopes will reduce the number of fatal shootings of civilians and the growing amount of criticism from Mexican authorities, civil-rights organizations and some members of Congress about its use of deadly force.

In five years, Border Patrol agents have killed 21 civilians, most of whom were unarmed and 10 of whom were slain for reportedly throwing rocks, according to a McClatchy Newspapers investigation.

Critics have accused the agency of being trigger-happy and lacking transparency in reporting the shootings.

Last week, the head of the nation’s largest federal law enforcement agency responded to accusations of excessive force by issuing new directives, advising agents to seek cover rather than shoot rock-throwers.

He also told them to avoid putting themselves in danger.

Some agents had been accused of deliberately standing in the path of vehicles as an excuse to fire weapons.

The new directives are a start but don’t go far enough, which is why a bipartisan bill introduced in Congress on Wednesday deserves serious consideration.

The proposed legislation by Reps. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, and Steve Pearce, R-N.M. would create an independent oversight commission with subpoena power and an ombudsman to investigate complaints, Franco Ordoñez of the Star-Telegram Washington Bureau reported.

No agency likes more oversight, particularly from a body with the authority to issue subpoenas, but the Border Patrol has brought this on itself by not being more forthcoming about the circumstances of these killings.

In one 2012 case, for example, a 16-year-old was shot multiple times in the back as he walked on the Mexican side of the border fence in Nogales.

The Border Patrol said he had been among a group of rock throwers, but witnesses in Mexico said he was an innocent bystander.

The McClatchy report says there is video of the shooting, but the Border Patrol will not release it.

Why not?

That is a question members of Congress should be asking.

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