Supreme Court to Tackle another Thorny Immigration Case

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

November 2, 2016
Hernandez v. Mesa is shaping up as landmark Supreme Court ruling.

Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear another contentious immigration-related case. At issue is whether U.S. border patrol agent Jesus Mesa Jr. can be sued for the shooting and killing of unarmed, 15-year-old Mexican Sergio Hernandez. At the time, Hernandez was playing with friends in the concrete culvert that separates El Paso, Texas, from Juarez, Mexico. The 2010 incident spawned outrage in Mexico, and instigated a lengthy legal battle over how far the U.S. Constitution should extend. The Supreme Court justices will decide whether the 4th Amendment’s ban on unreasonable seizures and unjustifiable use of deadly force stops at the U.S. border.

Critics long have accused the Border Patrol of recklessly using deadly force, and when it hands down its decision the court could, for the first time, impose limits on the alleged abuses. Hernandez’s parents filed a wrongful death suit in U.S. court, but it was dismissed.

Lawyers for the parents of the slain Mexican teenager argued that the Constitution’s protections against excessive force should include the border area where U.S. agents patrol. But the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out the parents’ suit against Mesa Jr. on the grounds that Hernandez was a Mexican citizen “who was on Mexican soil at the time he was shot.”

Hernandez’s parents allege that their son and three friends “were playing a game in which they dared each other to run up the culvert’s northern incline, touch the U.S. fence and then scamper back down to the bottom,” and were not trying to enter the U.S. illegally. The FBI, however, claims that Hernandez was a known immigrant smuggler pressed into service by the Mexican cartels.

The day after the shooting, the FBI released a statement which said that Mesa acted in self-defense. One year later, the Justice Department closed its investigation and urged no further appeals, since Mesa, a sworn law enforcement officer, was doing his duty. Nevertheless, after deliberating the case’s merits for more than a year, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear Hernandez v. Mesa.

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