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Border shooting

More trained border agents, not military, needed

copyright The Dallas Morning News 05/24/97

Tuesday's fatal shooting of an 18-year-old Redford, Texas, man by a U.S. Marine on temporary duty from Camp Pendleton, Calif., is a tragedy. It was the first time a member of the military had fired on a U.S. citizen since military units were initially deployed in border anti-drug efforts in the 1980s. For that reason alone, the Clinton administration's response to border lawlessness merits review.

The victim, Ezequiel Hernandez Jr., was tending a herd of goats Tuesday evening when he fired at a Marine wearing camouflage. The four-man unit, which was not clustered together, then attempted to leave the area. Yet, after being fired upon a second time and after seeing Mr. Hernandez raise his weapon to fire a third time, a Marine fatally wounded the young man in the torso.

It was but the second incident of its kind in more nearly 2,000 military missions in support of law enforcement. On Jan. 24, a U.S. Army Special Forces sergeant on detail from a unit based at Fort Campbell, Ky., shot and wounded a suspected border bandit. The victim later pleaded guilty to armed assault on a federal officer.

Tuesday's incident came just days after Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Phil Gramm criticized the Clinton administration for failing to request funding for 1,000 congressionally authorized Border Patrol agent slots in fiscal 1998. For more than a year, the brazen intimidation of Texas ranchers by drug smugglers in the Marfa sector of the Border Patrol has prompted an outcry.

The argument by the Immigration and Naturalization Service that the deployment of additional agents must be conducted at a "manageable" pace won't wash. That ignores the urgency of the situation. Is the administration truly committed to confronting the challenge?

Inevitably, too few trained agents will lead to more requests for military assistance. And while the military cannot be justifiably blamed for Tuesday's tragic incident, the decision to use troops to assist an understaffed Border Patrol could lead to additional civilian-military controversies.

The overriding issue on the border is one of safety and security for border residents and the nation as a whole. For the administration to move slowly on providing adequate border agents may make things worse.

This article copyright 1997 the Dallas Morning News and is reproduced for non-profit educational purposes only.

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