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Dallas Morning News August 1, 1997

Border troops

Decision to end military patrols is justified

copyright The Dallas Morning News 08/01/97

The news that the Pentagon has suspended border surveillance missions by military units from Texas to California should come as a surprise to no one. The decision was reported in the Wall Street Journal just one day before a grand jury convened in Marfa to begin weighing whether to indict a Marine corporal for the shooting death of 18-year-old Ezequiel Hernandez during a surveillance patrol near Redford, Texas.

That tragic incident, along with the previous shooting of a Mexican border bandit by a Special Forces sergeant in January, raised questions about armed U.S. troops assisting the Border Patrol on surveillance missions. It is increasingly clear that challenging the smuggling of drugs and undocumented newcomers should properly be the mission of the Border Patrol alone.

But a caveat is in order. If, for whatever reason, the federal immigration service and the Border Patrol fail to achieve their mission, declaring surrender is not an option. Whether the Pentagon likes it or not, the military may find itself ordered back to the border - especially in the aftermath of a recent House vote to deploy up to 10,000 troops in the region.

The military is balking for good reason. Ever since the shooting of Mr. Hernandez, U.S. troops participating in border surveillance operations have come to fear the possibility of being hung out to dry for doing their job. The assertion by a military officer in El Paso Monday that the Border Patrol took too long to respond to the shooting and was responsible for Mr. Hernandez bleeding to death indicates just how sensitive the military is becoming over the issue.

But everyone should now focus on what actually happened in Redford the day of Mr. Hernandez's death. That process will be further served when the grand jury in Marfa reconvenes in two weeks. It also will be an opportunity to prove or disprove recent allegations that Mr. Hernandez had shot at Border Patrol agents in February and had been warned not to do so. At the end of the day, ascertaining the absolute truth must continue to be the goal.

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

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