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Trump Administration Asks SCOTUS to Rebuff Families of Mexican Teens Killed By Border Patrol

— April 12, 2019

U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco claims letting the lawsuits proceed could risk officers’ safety.

The Trump administration is saying the families of two Mexican teenagers who were shot to death by border agents shouldn’t be allowed to sue for damages in U.S. courts.

According to the Associated Press, the White House is requesting the Supreme Court take up the case. In a brief filed Tuesday, the administration is asking the justices to rule in favor of agents implicated in the killings. In both cases, Border Patrol officers—who claim to have been targeted by rock-throwing teens—fired fatal shots across the border, killing the boys on Mexican soil.

One incident, notes the AP, occurred near the border between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua.

In the other, an agent standing in Nogales, Arizona shot a 16-year old boy in Mexico nearly a dozen times.

The sensitive cases have provoked loud reactions and different rulings. A federal appeals court in San Francisco has allowed the victims’ family in the Arizona case to continue their suit against agent Lonnie Swartz.

But the other case is facing complications. A New Orleans appellate panel broke with West Coast colleagues, finding that agent Jesus Mesa Jr. can’t sued in American courts for a killing that technically occurred on foreign soil.

Border Patrol agents patrol a stretch of desert along the U.S.-Mexico frontier. Image via Pixabay/user:mademoddymad. (CCA-BY-0.0)

In both cases, notes the Associated Press, the losing side appealed to the Supreme Court.

Now the Justice Department has asked the justices to resolve the matter, considering the starkly different outcomes from two appeals panels.

The administration and Justice Department’s official position is that the San Francisco court “erroneously’ extended the right to sue an American agent over the death of a foreign citizen on foreign soil.

Asked by the Supreme Court to provide the administration’s take on the case, Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco opined that “imposing a damages remedy on aliens injured abroad would implicate foreign-policy considerations that are committed to the political branches.”

Furthermore, Francisco’s 27-page analysis claims that allowing the lawsuits to proceed would complicate the White House’s ability to direct national security and “risk undermining the government’s ability to speak with one voice in international affairs.”

The Tucson Sentinel, providing an overview of Francisco’s brief, adds that the Solicitor General believes opening border agents to litigation from foreign citizens could pose a safety hazard, as officers could hesitate in making life-or-death “split-second decisions.”

Interestingly, the Sentinel notes that a 2013 review of both shootings, conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum, found that the agents “put themselves in harm’s way by remaining in close proximity to rock throwers when moving out of range was a reasonable option.”

“Too many cases do not appear to meet the test of objective reasonableness with regard to the use of deadly force,” the group wrote.

The Forum, led by police executives from the largest city, county and state forces in the United States, advocates for an abundance of caution in law enforcement, minimizing lethal engagements through common sense and better training.

Both shootings took place in 2012, with the victims’ families locked in a cycle of complaints and appeals ever since.


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