Gabriel Sanchez Velasquez, 31

Tucson, Arizona
January 17, 2014

Agencies: U.S. Customs and Border Protection - US

Cause of death: Shooting

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Last updated: about 6 years ago


On a chilly January night near the Mexican border, a Border Patrol agent peeled away from colleagues and chased Gabriel Sanchez Velazquez through desert scrub. Two shots rang out.

When the agent returned, he said that Sanchez, a sinewy 5-foot-9 car mechanic who spoke English well after spending 15 years in the United States, had leapt from under a mesquite bush and lunged to seize the agent’s firearm, forcing him to shoot. No one has come forward to contradict his story.

Sanchez’s death was the 20th fatal shooting of a civilian by a Border Patrol agent since 2010 as the agency expanded rapidly. Last week, another shooting took place, bringing the total to 21.

The killings expose what lawyers and civil-rights advocates assert are far-reaching problems in the largest federal law enforcement agency.

Those problems, critics say, include a resistance to adopting safeguards on the use of lethal force, watered-down training standards amid rapid expansion and a mentality that anything goes in the battle to secure the borders.

Of the 21 dead, 16 were Mexican or Guatemalan. Most were unarmed, and some were on Mexican soil. One was a 16-year-old who was shot multiple times in the back as he stood on the Mexican side of the border fence. None of the shooters are known to have been disciplined, and the circumstances of most cases have not been aired in public. Sanchez’s wife and children — all American citizens — are still trying to learn the name of the man who shot him.

The spate of homicides raises an uncomfortable question, the critics say: Do Border Patrol agents have a green light to fire on and kill Central American immigrants?

Guarding the border is an issue of national security, and Border Patrol advocates argue that the agency’s mission can be dangerous, though the number of armed confrontations appears minimal.

One agent died in a shootout on Dec. 14, 2010, with bandits in Arizona’s Peck Canyon. Another notorious case happened Oct. 2, 2012, when an agent was shot to death not far from the canyon. That incident turned out to be “friendly fire,” when two agents responded to a tripped motion sensor.

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