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Shooting victim's sister, group seek to demilitarize border
The Houston Chronicle July 15, 1997


WASHINGTON -- Less than two months after an 18-year-old goatherder was fatally shot by a Marine patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border, his sister and others will lobby elected officials to demilitarize the border.

Belen Hernandez and community leaders from Redford, the West Texas town where Esequiel Hernandez Jr. lived and died, lined up three days of appointments with federal officials beginning today.

The delegation has meetings scheduled with the head of the nation's immigration agency, drug czar Barry McCaffrey, members of Congress and aides at the White House and Defense Department.

The group is calling for demilitarization of the border in the wake of the May 20 shooting death of Hernandez by a Marine who was on an anti-drug patrol in the community of about 100 residents, 180 miles southeast of El Paso.

In their rounds, the Texans will ask federal officials to end all military operations along the border, hold congressional field hearings and pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting the military from policing civilians on U.S. soil.

They also will confront the officials on the lack of consultation between federal anti-drug task forces and the border communities where they operate, said Maria Jimenez, who heads the American Friends Service Committee's Law Enforcement Monitoring Project.

Military anti-drug patrols have been suspended along parts of the border while authorities investigate the fatal shooting.

The Marines contend Hernandez fired his .22-caliber rifle twice and was about to fire a third time when Cpl. Clemente Banuelos opened fire. Hernandez's family says he carried the rifle to protect his goats and sometimes shot at targets.

The Texas Rangers and the Marine Corps are investigating the shooting, which raised questions about the deployment of military personnel on observation missions.

Since 1989, all branches of the military have helped civilian law enforcement agencies on a variety of anti-drug missions along the border. The operations are coordinated by El Paso-based Joint Task Force Six after assistance is requested by a local, state or federal law enforcement agency.

The head of a group that opposes the increased militarization of U.S. law enforcement contends Hernandez's death is just the latest example of a new and disturbing trend.

"The local population does not want camouflaged bushes with M-16s in their back yards," said Kevin Zeese, president of Common Sense for Drug Policy, a nonprofit educational group based in Falls Church, Va.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush on Monday also criticized military policing along the Rio Grande. "I don't think that the military ought to be providing direct intervention on the border," said Bush, in Austin responding to questions after an unrelated event. "I believe that is the role of the Border Patrol and Customs and INS agents.

"I've always felt that military equipment in order to provide sensors and listening devices to help us interdict drugs was worthwhile. It is not the proper role of the military to act as policing agents on the border of the United States."

The House last month adopted a measure that would allow up to 10,000 U.S. troops to be stationed along the Southwest border to help stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking.

The troops would be barred by law from making arrests and other civil law enforcement activities, but could help the Border Patrol and Immigration and Naturalization Service in inspections and detaining illegal aliens. The Redford delegation is hoping to meet with the author of that measure, Rep. Jim Traficant, D-Ohio.

While in town, the Texans also intend to meet with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and hold a news conference on Thursday.

This article copyright 1997 the Houston Chronicle and is reproduced for non-profit educational purposes only.

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