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Shooting Puts Pressure on Fox

Border Patrol incident increases calls in Mexico for an immigration accord. U.S. officials defend tough tactics.

January 06, 2006|Hector Tobar | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Vicente Fox was under increased criticism here Thursday for his government's response to the shooting last week of a Mexican national during a confrontation with the U.S. Border Patrol just a few yards north of the international frontier near San Ysidro.

Guillermo Martinez Rodriguez, an 18-year-old Mexican identified by U.S. authorities as an immigrant smuggler, was allegedly shot and fatally wounded during the clash Dec. 30 on the U.S. side of the border.

Commentators here have suggested that the agent involved be tried in absentia in a Mexican court, and that the Fox government make it clear to the Bush administration that the human toll of the U.S. crackdown on illegal immigration is unacceptable.

"The defense of the life, the physical integrity and the human rights of our compatriots on U.S. soil cannot be delayed any longer," the influential daily newspaper El Universal said in an editorial Thursday.

El Universal called on the Mexican government to pressure the United States to sign an immigration accord that would allow Mexicans to migrate northward "in an orderly fashion."

Tijuana resident Martinez Rodriguez was part of a group of people throwing rocks at U.S. Border Patrol agents, according to news reports in Mexico. Wounded during the confrontation near a ladder smugglers were using to scale a fence, he fled back across the border. He died of his wounds in Tijuana, his relatives said.

Border Patrol officials acknowledge that one of their agents fired at a suspected illegal immigrant on Dec. 30 who was throwing rocks. But they say they cannot confirm that the bullet struck the suspect, since the man then retreated to Mexico.

Mexican authorities say Martinez Rodriguez was killed by a shot fired from a distance of 7 to 15 feet. The bullet struck him from behind and passed through his neck, they said.

"This is the kind of tragic thing that occurs when people try to illegally cross the border," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told reporters Thursday at a San Ysidro news conference. "There is zero tolerance for violence along the border."

Relations between the two countries remained strained Thursday, with new reminders of the increasingly chaotic and dangerous situation along the 2,000-mile border as thousands of Mexicans and other foreign nationals seek to cross illegally every day.

U.S. officials in Texas reported Thursday that Border Patrol agents have come under fire twice recently along the Rio Grande. No agents were injured in the Texas shootings.

On the night of Dec. 30, gunmen on the Mexican side of the frontier opened fire on a Border Patrol boat that was cruising the Rio Grande.

"We don't believe this was a random shooting," Jose Rodriguez, a spokesman for the Border Patrol in McAllen, Texas, said in a telephone interview. The gunmen, he noted, were able to strike the boat five times, even though it was moving quickly in the darkness.

And late Wednesday, unknown gunmen fired on agents on patrol in Brownsville.

No agents were injured in either incident.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the death of Martinez Rodriguez was "tragic for the families and the individuals involved." He said the U.S. government would reply privately to a Mexican "diplomatic note" demanding an investigation of the incident.

On Thursday, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez said he had received a call from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during which she promised that U.S. officials would investigate the incident.

Derbez was the subject of a scathing cartoon in Thursday's editions of the leftist newspaper La Jornada. He was depicted wearing a sombrero and serape and leaning sleepily against a cactus. The caption said, "Responding to Aggression."

This week, a panel of Mexican lawmakers declared the Martinez Rodriguez shooting "the result of the policies of submission" of the Fox government before the United States.

Several senators called for pressure tactics against the U.S., such as a Mexican boycott of businesses on the American side of the border.

"If they don't want us as workers, then we shouldn't be their consumers either," said Sen. Dulce Maria Sauri Riancho.

For many Mexicans, the shooting was especially galling because it came just weeks after the U.S. House of Representatives voted for the construction of 700 miles of fencing along the border.

Hundreds of people die every year after crossing the border illegally; most succumb to the rigors of crossing the desert with little food or water.

In the last three years, Mexican Sen. Raymundo Cardenas said, "more Mexicans have died [crossing the U.S. border] than Germans died during the entire existence of the Berlin Wall."

Times staff writer Richard Marosi in San Ysidro and Cecilia Sanchez in The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.

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