Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca and his friends crossed paths with United States border patrol agent Jesus Mesa, Jr., on June 7, 2010. They had been in a cement culvert that straddles the border between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where Sergio was from; his parents said the teens had been playing a game. According to CNN, Mesa detained one of Sergio’s friends on the U.S. side of the border. When the unarmed Sergio started running, Mesa shot at the teen twice. One bullet hit him in the head; his body was recovered on the Mexican side of the border. Sergio was 15 years old.
On Tuesday (February 25), nearly 10 years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Sergio’s parents cannot sue Mesa for damages. The ruling came down in a 5-4 vote: Justice Samuel Alito delivered the court’s majority opinion, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the dissenting opinion, on behalf of herself, Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor. Jesus Hernández and Guadalupe Güereca had initially sued Mesa for violating Sergio’s fourth and fifth amendment rights, and several courts issued different rulings on those claims and subsequent appeals.
As BuzzFeed notes, the ruling will make it more difficult for other foreign nationals to sue federal agencies or employees for violating their civil rights. Mesa was on the U.S. side of the border when he shot Sergio; in Tuesday’s ruling, Justice Ginsburg wrote it should not matter “one whit” where Sergio was when Mesa shot him.
She wrote, “Mesa’s allegedly unwarranted deployment of deadly force occurred on United States soil. It scarcely makes sense for a remedy trained on deterring rogue officer conduct to turn upon a happenstance subsequent to the conduct — a bullet landing in one half of a culvert, not the other.”
The Supreme Court first decided to hear the case in 2016, the New York Times reported; at the time, the Obama administration argued that the case should be under the jurisdiction of the Mexican government. Here’s the thing: Mexico tried to do that, and charged Mesa with murder, but the U.S. refused a request to extradite him. They also refused to hold Mesa directly accountable for excessive use of force.
So Mexican officials filed a brief to the Supreme Court asking them to hear the case, on the grounds that “any invasion of Mexico’s sovereignty occurred when Agent Mesa shot his gun across the border at Sergio Hernández — not when the boy’s parents sought to hold Agent Mesa responsible for his actions.”
Similarly, in 2012, a border patrol agent in Arizona shot and killed 16-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, who was standing in Nogales, Mexico. A Tucson jury found agent Lonnie Swartz not guilty of second-degree murder in 2018.
In a statement provided to MTV News after the Hernandez v. Mesa ruling, American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Lee Gelernt said, “Border agents should not have immunity to fatally shoot Mexican teenagers on the other side of the border fence. The Constitution does not stop at the border.”
A 2013 report conducted by the Police Executive Research forum examined 67 cases of “deadly force events” at the U.S.-Mexico border that occurred between January 2010 and October 2012. The study concluded that, even when other parties are throwing rocks or similar objects at officers, “too many cases do not appear to meet the test of objective reasonableness with regard to the use of deadly force.”
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