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Enforcing the law in no man’s land

The murder of a Mexican teenager has sparked a fierce legal debate about how to protect human rights on the Mexico-US border.

In 2010, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent Jesús Mesa gunned down a 15-year-old Mexican national, Adrián Hernández Guereca, as he approached the US border in El Paso, Texas, from Ciudad de Juárez, in Mexico’s Chihuahua state.

For years, various US courts have been debating whether Mesa can be prosecuted for killing Hernández under US law. This month, the case is due to go to the US Supreme Court for a final ruling.

Hernández’s parents have asked the US Supreme Court for permission to sue their son’s killer for abusing his power. But until now, the US courts have been reluctant to rule in their favour due to questions of jurisdiction. Since the shooting took place just outside of US soil and Hernández was not a US national, some judges believe he should not be protected by the US constitution and the US courts should have no jurisdiction to hear the case.

But Mexican NGOs have rallied behind Hernández’s parents and maintain that failure to prosecute the CBP agent would be tantamount to granting immunity for all crimes committed by the authorities across the border, so turning the border into some sort of legal ‘no man’s land’.

The 2,000-mile land border between Mexico and the US is one of the busiest in the world. But it could also be one of the most dangerous. Herández’s shooting was not an isolated incident and a report released by the Mexican government in August 2015 shows that 51 people were killed in cross-border shootings between 2005 and 2015.

Furthermore, the case has wider implications which extend beyond the border. If the US Supreme court agrees to hear Herández’s case, this could set a significant legal landmark, that would open the way for non-US citizens who are victims of abuse by US law enforcement officials at the border to take their cases to the US courts.

  • Mesa’s defence

Initially, the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), which investigated the incident, claimed that CBP officer Mesa shot Hernández in an act of self-defence because he was surrounded by a group of illegal Mexican immigrants who were throwing rocks at him. But this version of events was discredited in the US courts after mobile phone footage showed that the officer was not surrounded by immigrants and that Hernández was, in fact, defenceless. Mesa’s lawyer now argues that his defendant may have been ignorant of the consequences of his actions.



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