Are Border Patrol agents using migrants as target practice? That is what one group claims happened at a San Diego-area Border Patrol event.
The controversy centers around a series of photos taken last June at the annual San Diego Fallen Agents Memorial 5K Run. The photos show Border Patrol agents supervising as young children hold paintball guns and shoot at human-like targets along the San Ysidro/Tijuana border fence.
Immigrant rights activist Pedro Rios calls the activity disturbing.
“It resembles who the targets are for border patrol,” Rios, with the Immigrant Rights Consortium, said on Monday.
Rios says he first saw some of the photos a few months ago on the event’s website, but did not think anything of them. He says it was not until another round of photos were brought to his attention by an anonymous source, this time involving children.
A spokesman with the Border Patrol says it was a family-friendly event where off-duty agents held a variety of demonstrations. The Border Patrol says the event aims to raise awareness about law enforcement tools without the use of deadly force. Agents say claims that they were teaching children to "attack migrants" – are false.
A U.S. Border Patrol s pokesman with the San Diego sector released the following statement:
“The U.S. Border Patrol takes pride in participating in community events to help build awareness about our activities and operations. Displays at the exposition included information about the U.S. Border Patrol's horse patrol, fire and emergency rescue services, vehicles and other equipment used by Border Patrol agents, and other topics.
"The expo also coincided with the annual Fallen Agent Memorial Run, a local San Diego five kilometer run that agents participate in during their free time to remember U.S. Border Patrol agents lost in the line of duty, and raise money for scholarships for local high school children. The photos in question are from an activity at the event that allowed members of the community to fire a pepper ball launch system that had been loaded with 'inert rounds' -- filled with a baby powder-type substance to be able to see whether the intended target had been hit The target is a standard practice used by law enforcement and even amateurs throughout the U.S., and is clothed in plain jeans and a t-shirt, also standard when conducting exercises/demonstrations.
"The 'stop' for the exercise was an existing fence that is at the back of the parking lot chosen for safety reasons, rather than facing the exercise toward the crowds attending the expo. It is not the border fence (primary or secondary), but rather a fence that helps ensure safety at the mall by marking a clear space that can be used for U.S. Border Patrol agents conducting law enforcement activities along the border.”
Still, Rios calls the paintball activity insensitive, especially from an agency under constant scrutiny for their use of force. He also urges agents to remove the activity from future events.
“Had they had a bulls-eye, had they had some sort of silhouette that's used in shooting ranges, I think it probably would've not had been such a huge issue."