Tucson bishop speaks up after border agent cleared in Mexican teen’s death

Tucson, Ariz., Apr 26, 2018 / 03:28 pm (CNA).- The ‘not guilty’ verdict for a U.S. border agent who shot and killed a Mexican teen is “deeply troubling” and raises “serious issues of justice and accountability,” said Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson, Ariz.

“I find myself in a close bond of fraternity and solidarity with the family of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez and the many who have been unable to achieve the kind of authentic justice upon which our nation was founded,” the bishop said April 24.

“While we are privileged to live in a nation whose greatness is rooted in its democracy and fair treatment of all, such decisions reveal that our democratic institutions are not without flaws and occasionally grave injustices,” he said.

The bishop also acknowledged the difficult job of border patrol agents, as well as their important contributions.

Elena Rodriguez, 16, was reportedly among a group on Mexican territory throwing rocks across the border at the border fence in the city of Nogales the night of Oct. 10, 2012. Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz was accused of shooting through the fence, killing the teen.

The agent allegedly fired his pistol 16 times in 34 seconds from three different locations. Rodriguez was hit eight times in the back and twice in the head. Federal prosecutors said the fact that Swartz continued to shoot after the teen was on the ground showed that he acted deliberately or recklessly in disregard of human life.

The agent’s attorneys said the shooting was justified and given that the teen was killed by one of the first shots, the other shots are legally irrelevant. They said the agent was in a chaotic scenario in a dangerous area known for smuggling. Swartz in his testimony said he had to make a split-second decision whether to defend himself and his fellow law enforcement officers at night.

Jurors deliberated for four days after a weeks-long trial in U.S. District Court, finding Swartz not guilty of second-degree murder. On April 23 they told Judge Raner Collins they did not believe they could reach a unanimous verdict on the two lesser charges of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.

Bishop Weisenburger reflected on the situation of both the border patrol and of the treatment of other people on the border.

“We must keep in mind that customs and border control agents are oftentimes placed in situations of great danger,” he said. “Too, there are times when their efforts have resulted in saving the lives of those in great peril. We rely upon their high degree of professionalism and integrity.”

“However, I respectfully call for continued scrutiny of the methods and procedures employed by those who secure our nation’s borders, for transparent accountability, for a renewed sense of dignity and the humane treatment of all persons regardless of their legal status, and for authentic justice when human rights are denied.”

The bishop said that although law enforcement is the primary issue in the jury decision, the case is “yet another reminder of our broken immigration system.” The U.S. bishops and the Arizona Catholic Conference are both committed to advocating comprehensive immigration reform in Congress, he said.

This proposed reform is based on key values like affirming human dignity regardless of persons’ legal status, the right to have a well-regulated border, the right of people to immigrate, and “an orderly process to welcome new immigrants whose inalienable human dignity must always be respected.”

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  1. Did the Bishop have any criticism of rock throwers. Will he volunteer to have a group throw rocks ( they’re never small ) at him wherein he risks being paralyzed or killed? One of our crosses for decades has been listening to Church, poor people liberals…like this incident. It’s why some men drift from the Church..effeminate thinking. They know our Catholic leaders must pose in line with UN/nytimes/northeast tv media values….never kill poor adults who are moving toward you throwing four pound rocks that might put you in a vegetative state for decades.
    Never kill them…never state to the media that poor migrants should fill out applications for citizenship…how unjust…Vlad the impaler in his time also demanded migrants fill out forms and wait. The new Catholicism….never criticize the poor even though Christ noted out loud…”were not ten lepers cured…where are the other nine”? That’s a man talking. All our public commentary on the poor is effeminate….soft…mercy toward them….criticism of the impossible job of police in a politically correct world. Christ was manly. Our leaders have a script that doesn’t allow what Christ did and said in the leper incident….He held the poor accountable for gratitude. He called them on it…our media savvy Bishops don’t.

      • Judy,
        If we were Biblical and we’re not…as we should be after 2000 years, we would know how scripture divides the genders ideally as in Sirach 42:14… “ Better a man’s severity than a woman’s indulgence…”. Does that mean a male’s severity is better 24 hours a day? Hell no. I agree with James Brown that life would be nothing without a woman or a girl ( excepting celibates ) but in matters of discipline and fear of the Lord for rock throwers, man’s one hour daily of severity is sporadically better than a woman’s mercy to instill righteousness while a woman’s softness is better 23 hours a day….for most of us.
        In fact when scripture says…” no evil is greater than that of a woman, no wound greater than that of the heart” ibid 25:13….it is saying that precisely because a woman most resembles God’s essence…Love according to John…precisely because of that highest value symbolism within her bone marrow so to speak, her fall into callousness is a more affective catastrophe….in the soul of the onlooker. Yes there are strict moms…and permissive males…but scripture presumes what happens in the majority of cases when a family is complete and in harmony generally….and biblical.

  2. Tragic for the teen who was somewhere he shouldn’t have been, doing something stupid, putting himself in more peril than he realized.

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