Border Patrol Agents Fire Pepper Balls at Mexican Swimmers in Rio Grande
Tensions heated up on the on the southern border after U.S. Border Patrol agents fired non-lethal pepper balls at Mexican families having a swim in the Rio Grande.
A confrontation began when a security guard from the International Boundary and Water Commission told a group of swimmers to not cross the middle of the river to the U.S. side. Families in Mexico often swim recreationally in the Rio Grande during the summer when the river is flowing in that area, according to the El Paso Times. The Rio Grande flows between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico.
This section of river is very narrow; the water even appears shallow enough for people to walk from one country to the other.
The report states that a group of people began throwing rocks at the guard, which drew Border Patrol agents to the scene. After several minutes of confrontation and telling the swimmers to get back to the Mexican side of the river, and more rocks being thrown at them, Border Patrol began firing "pepper balls" into the river.
Border Patrol has modified paintball guns called "pepperball launching systems," which shoot small plastic balls that contain pepper-spray powder. Like ordinary paintball guns, they are not completely accurate, and shots may not land where they are intended.
"When [the projectiles] hit the floor or a person, it opens up and releases the powder and it irritates you and you leave or stop coming forward," Border Patrol spokesman Ramiro Cordero said.
Although there were no reports of injuries, there was no indication if any swimmers or other people were struck by the pepper balls. The swimmers went back to the Mexican side of the river, the Times stated.
Here is a 6-minute video taken from the Mexican side of the river.
Fernando Garcia, who is the executive director for the Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR), said it was unfortunate this happened only a week after the deadly El Paso Walmart shooting. He said BNHR condemned the violence, and that Border Patrol agents should be held accountable for their acts of force.
"It is very disturbing only a week after a mass shooting targeting Mexicans and people of color in an El Paso Walmart, that Border Patrol launched pepper balls against Mexican families swimming in the Rio Grande," Garcia said in a statement. "The dehumanization of, and use of state violence against, Mexicans with impunity drove that horrific shooting, and it is appalling to see Border Patrol reinforce the shooter's message with their actions, especially so soon afterward.
"We condemn this violence. Border Patrol must investigate and be accountable for its use of force."
Garcia said the incident rolls back the progress made in terms of reducing force by agents in the El Paso sector of the border, making a safer environment for everyone.
"We know that tactics to deescalate encounters make life safer for migrants, Borderland residents and agents," Garcia said.