On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Hernández v. Mesa, a case involving a U.S. Border Patrol agent who fatally shot a Mexican teenager on the El Paso-Juárez border in 2010. The case presents some complex legal issues like whether a foreign national shot on foreign soil is entitled to Fourth Amendment protections, or whether the family of the Mexican teenager even has standing to sue in federal court.
But the facts of the case demonstrate just how complicated our problems have become along the U.S.-Mexico border, and how President Trump’s proposed solutions, like a border wall and mass deportations, won’t solve them.
First, some context. From 2008 to 2011, Juárez was embroiled in a horrifyingly violent drug war between law enforcement and rival drug cartels that claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people. In the summer of 2010, when killings in the city averaged about a dozen a day, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Jesus Mesa was on patrol near a cement culvert that divides Juárez from El Paso, Texas. He saw Sergio Hernández Guereca and a few other teenagers running toward the American border fence, and tried to apprehend them.
Hernández’s family claims he and his friends were just playing around, daring each other to run up and touch the American border fence. On the other hand, Justice Department records show that Hernández had twice been arrested for smuggling aliens across the border into the United States. It’s unclear what happened next, but it ended with Mesa shooting Hernández. He fired from the American side of the border, and Hernandez fell dead on the Mexican side.
A Single Metropolis, Divided By A Border
It’s a tragic story that underscores the seemingly impossible task facing the U.S. Border Patrol. El Paso-Juárez isn’t really two cities but a single integrated metropolis with an international border running through the middle.
A constant stream of traffic flows between the two cities, which have a combined population of more than 2.5 million—the largest metro region on the U.S.-Mexico border with the largest bilingual and binational workforce in the Western Hemisphere. The economy is highly integrated, thanks in large part to NAFTA, with students and workers commuting between the two cities every day and tariff-free raw materials flowing to factories in Juárez (called maquiladoras) and assembled goods coming back to the United States.