TUCSON, Arizona — The mother of a Mexican teen who was shot to death by a U.S. Border Patrol agent nearly two years ago sued the agency on Tuesday, saying her son was walking home after playing basketball with his girlfriend and friends when he was hit in the back by 10 bullets.
Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, 16, was in Nogales, Sonora, near the tall, steel fence that divides the United States and Mexico when a U.S. Border Patrol agent shot him from Nogales, Arizona, on Oct. 10, 2012. An autopsy shows the teen was shot at least eight times.
The Border Patrol has said Elena Rodriguez was among a group of people throwing rocks at agents across the border, endangering their lives. The ACLU, which filed the lawsuit in federal court in Tucson on behalf of Araceli Rodriguez, says the shooting was another example of border agents using excessive force without consequences. Araceli Rodriguez says her son never had a rock or any other weapon.
The Border Patrol does not comment on pending litigation, spokesman Andy Adame said.
Agency officials in the past have defended agents' use of force.
Chief Michael Fisher said at a border expo in March that there's been a mischaracterization that agents "indiscriminately" open fire.
"If you are like me, there's nothing more terrifying than fighting for your life when you're alone with no communication, and the thought for a split second that you may never get home at the end of that shift to see your wife and son again," Fisher said. "The only thing that is equal to the ripple of fear is thinking of having to use deadly force against another human being."
Immigrant rights groups have long claimed that agents are trigger-happy.
In the lawsuit, the ACLU alleges that the Border Patrol has a "systematic" problem with use of force. Border Patrol agents generally are allowed to use lethal force against rock throwers because rocks can be potentially deadly. Rock throwers have attacked agents more than 1,700 times since 2010.
"Jose Antonio's killing by U.S. Border Patrol agents is unfortunately not a unique event, but part of a larger problem of abuse by border patrol agents in Nogales and elsewhere," the lawsuit states.
Attorneys acknowledge they face an uphill battle in their case against the Border Patrol.
"This is not only about justice for the family and Border Patrol abuse, but it's potentially going to be a test case for an enormous constitutional question," said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project.
Gelernt anticipates that the U.S. government will claim a Mexican citizen on Mexican soil does not have American constitutional rights.
A federal appeals court ruled last month that the U.S. Constitution protected another Mexican teenager killed by a border agent even though the teen was in Mexico when he was shot in June 2010. Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca was 15 when an agent who said he was attacked by rock throwers shot the teen near a bridge between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. The Border Patrol is appealing that 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision.
Gelernt says the ACLU will continue to seek the release of the names of the agents involved in Elena Rodriguez's killing. The FBI, which is conducting an investigation, has not released any information regarding the agents involved. The Border Patrol also has kept mum about whether any agents have been disciplined in the case.
At a news conference Tuesday, the teen's grandmother pleaded for justice.
"It was a cowardly murder," Taide Elena Rodriguez said. "Jose Antonio was not an animal."