August 10, 2017 came and went as every other day under the Trump administration. While Donald Trump spent his day creating chaos by pointing out the human rights violations of Venezuela and North Korea and threatening military action against them, he hypocritically refused to respond to the August 10th deadline issued by The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The deadline was in regard to the human rights violations and murder of Anastacio Hernandez-Rojas, a Mexican citizen, husband and father of five who was murdered by CBP agents in San Ysidro, CA in 2010.
Anastacio had been living in the San Diego area for over twenty years when he was arrested and turned over to immigration on May 10, 2010 (Mexican Mother’s Day) for shoplifting food items for his family. Within two weeks, he was returned to Mexico. On May 28th, he jumped the fence at the border in San Ysidro in an attempt to rejoin his family who desperately needed him. Once again, he was nabbed by the Border Patrol.
As his partner, Maria Puga, and five children waited that evening for him to return, Anastacio was exiting a Border Patrol truck at the San Ysidro Port of Entry to be returned to Mexico once again. With his hands handcuffed behind his back, agents stated that he attacked them. Within minutes, dozens of agents surrounded Anastacio who was then knocked to the ground while still handcuffed. He then curled his body in the fetal position in an attempt to protect himself.
Agents stomped, punched, tasered and beat Anastacio with their batons as he begged them to stop. Agents then noticed witnesses filming the scene on their phones and began confiscating and erasing those videos. Instead of taking statements from those witnesses or obtaining their biographical information, agents told witnesses to leave. Border Patrol supervisors did not notify officials of the murder until twenty-four hours later allowing agents involved time to get their stories straight. All video from their station cameras was erased or lost.
Doctors documented evidence of blunt force trauma to Anastacio’s face, legs, abdomen, chest as well as taser marks and hemorrhaging from baton blows. There was literally no place on his body that had not been brutalized by the agents according to the autopsy reports. While Anastacio was technically brain dead from the beating, he was being kept alive by the hospital so that his family could visit him. However, Border Patrol maintained watch over his room and refused entry to his family. Maria was forced the indignity of having the Mexican Consulate intervene so that she could see what was left of the father of their five children.
Anastacio Hernandez-Rojas was declared deceased on May 31, 2010. Two different autopsies found his death to be a homicide.
To date, the family has never been advised of any disciplinary actions taken against the agents responsible for the murder of Anastacio or for those agents responsible for interfering with the investigation. Anastacio’s family even petitioned the CBP’s Use of Force Review Board. According to the IACHR report, the board met twice in 2015 and 2016 to discuss the case but have refused to comment or issue a report.
In March 2011, with CBP and DOJ refusing to communicate with the Anastacio family, they were forced to file a civil suit for Anastacio’s wrongful death. Court documents show that, “[t]he officers all allege that Anastasio was an out-of-control individual who was, at all times, violent and unresponsive to their commands[.]” Yet, as the court pointed out, existing video that was turned over to the family shows that these agents lied in their testimony. The court also rejected the government’s claim that agents were not liable for his death using “sovereign and qualified immunity.” The government kept the civil suit tied up in court for six years before they finally agreed to pay the family $1 million this past February.
The details of the settlement show that Anastacio and Maria’s five children who are United States citizens will split $680,000. Attorney’s fees will eat up the rest of the money with apparently nothing going to Maria herself.
Even with the video evidence, the Department of Justice, FBI and the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security found in 2015 that no crime was committed by the CBP agents in Anastacio’s death. This essentially closed the case.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
The IACHR was established by the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1979 and is located in Washington D.C. The OAS is a UN-like organization for all countries located within the Americas. Commissioner James L. Cavallaro currently represents the United States and therefore the Trump Administration on the IACHR. The United States routinely issues statements and judgements through the IACHR regarding other participating countries’ human rights violations.
But in the case of Anastacio, it would appear that the United States has chosen to ignore the demand for response. The Trump administration was given until August 10, 2017 to issue a statement on Anastacio’s murder which the IACHR regards as a blatant and egregious violation of human rights. So far, they have not commented nor have they requested an extension.
The IACHR now has the right to issue a judgement in favor of the Hernandez-Rojas family in default. This will result in a finding that the Trump administration and therefore the United States is in direct violation of human rights.
Responses to Trump Administration
On August 14, 2017, four days past the deadline for a response, Alliance San Diego (an immigrant and refugee rights group) held a telephonic press conference to respond to the Trump administration’s silence. Speakers and their statements follow:
Roxanna Altholtz -Associate Director at UC Berkley Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and co-counsel in the lawsuit:
"The Trump administration's failure to respond to the Commission undermines our efforts to hold other countries in our hemisphere accountable for violations of human rights. Our government owes Anastasio's family an explanation as to why this case was not properly investigated and why it failed to prosecute the agents who killed Anastasio. If the United States is serious about addressing human rights violations in the rest of the world, it must abide by the same standards at home."
Christian Ramirez - Human Rights Director of Alliance San Diego and Director of Southern Border Communities Coalition:
"If the Trump administration thought failing to respond to this case would make it go away, they are sadly mistaken. We fully expect the U.S. government to fulfill its obligations to the international community and to uphold the basic values of a democratic society. Now is the time for President Trump to reign in Customs and Border Protection and its out of control agents. There is no room in a democracy for impunity and state-sponsored violence. For far too long CBP has operated with impunity and violence, which has led to countless abuses and deaths. The public has a right to know how our government will protect the safety and security of civil society from the agents that systematically abuse their authority."
Viviana Krsticevic – Executive Director of the Center for Justice and International Law:
"The case of Mr. Hernandez-Rojas will require the Inter-American Commission to look into alleged excessive use of force by law enforcement and lack of accountability in the U.S. context. The Inter-American Commission will not only examine the alleged human rights abuses suffered by this specific victim but also whether there exists a pattern and practice of abuse and impunity by law enforcement on the border. The failure by the U.S. to respond to the petitioners' very serious allegations undermines its authority in the international system."
Maria Puga – Anastacio Hernandez-Rojas’ partner:
"It has been 7 years since border agents stole my family's joy and happiness and no agent has been held accountable. This is the United States' opportunity to explain what happened, and an important step towards making sure that this doesn't happen again. The United States sings about being the home of the brave yet its silence on my husband's case is anything but brave. I've been in a state of shock and confusion since my husband was killed but it will never dull my fight to seek justice for Anastasio."
Trump Administration Joins the Ranks of Human Rights Violators
With the blatant refusal of the Trump administration to respond to the IACHR inquiry, it signals to the CBP and other law enforcement agencies, that it does not intend to enforce laws regarding human rights. Under the Trump presidency, the United States now joins the ranks of those countries he condemns (North Korea and Venezuela) for human rights violations.