Art Del Cueto is president of the Tucson Sector chapter of the National Border Patrol Council, the union whose membership includes about 75 percent of all Border Patrol agents. He was the solo host of the latest episode of the union’s weekly “Green Line” podcast, embedded here:
Entitled “Not Guilty!” the episode begins with a discussion of last week’s court verdict in Tucson, Arizona, in which a jury acquitted agent Lonnie Swartz of second-degree murder charges. The jury could not agree on lesser manslaughter charges, and prosecutors are considering whether to seek a new trial. In a 2012 incident, Swartz fired his service weapon through the fence that divides Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, aiming at a group of people throwing rocks at agents and local police. Swartz killed a 16-year-old Mexican boy, José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, who was hit with 10 bullets.
Del Cueto, who was present at the trial, had much to say about the case, and about other topics. Here are a few things he said that deserve a response.
- At 10:15, on a photo of the victim, Elena Rodríguez: “He actually looks like a thug, to be honest.”
He’s talking about a dead 16-year-old boy. If the goal here was to cede the moral high ground, then mission accomplished within the first 10 minutes.
Let’s juxtapose that with what the boy’s mother said last October:
“People will say many things about Jose Antonio, but as his mother I can say one thing: He wasn’t a criminal,” Araceli Rodriguez said.
“Even if he was throwing rocks, that person had no right to kill him,” she said, pointing to the border fence standing about 18 feet high atop a nearly 30-foot cliff on the other side of the street from where her son was killed, a demonstration that he could not have posed a reasonable threat to anyone on the other side. “And I will fight for him and defend him forever.”
- At 14:22: “Lonnie took the extra initiative to use his firearm to defend his life and the life of fellow agents. I honestly think Lonnie is a hero. We don’t need to attack Lonnie. We need to hold Lonnie up as a hero, that’s what I think.”
As I detailed in a post last week, what Swartz did was a very poor example of how and when law enforcement personnel might use deadly force in a tense situation. No agent or policeman should emulate it. But by repeatedly calling him a “hero,” Del Cueto is urging agents to act the same way in similar situations.
Instead of rushing to “hero” status, we need to know what led an agent to fire his gun through the border fence 16 times in a span of 34 seconds, while no other agent or police officer on the scene felt a need to shoot even once. Was it faulty training? Was Swartz under mental or emotional stress? Did he truly see no other option at the moment?
- At 20:40, Del Cueto seems confused about protesters using the slogan “no justice, no peace”: “‘No justice, no peace?’ What is the opposite of peace? It’s war. That’s the opposite of peace. …What does that mean? …Are you declaring war on our Border Patrol agents? …If you guys are declaring war, that’s not something you need to take lightly. And agents need to be aware of that, be a lot more cautious when you’re making certain stops because, you know, a war cry has been sent out.”
The opposite of “peace” is also discord, outrage, nonviolent resistance, and “no tranquility” in general. Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil-rights activist, says he helped coin the phrase after a 1986 racial violence incident in Howard Beach, Queens. He wrote in The Guardian in 2014:
Many at the time, and even to this day, wrongly equate the slogan to mean that we are somehow promoting violence. Nothing could be further from the truth. “No justice, no peace” means that, until we see fairness and accountability, we will not remain silent. Those who never want to see progress or change would love it if we remained quiet—that’s exactly why we don’t.
- At 26:58, Del Cueto says a seizure of $81,000 in methamphetamine and “over $76,000” of cocaine off a bus in Laredo is “a huge huge dent to the cartels.”
If they’re using street value to estimate that, $76,000 worth of cocaine would be very roughly 760 grams at the most. That’s about three quarters of a kilogram. Colombia’s armed forces and police alone seized 432,000 kilograms of cocaine in 2018.
- At 39:00: “I heard one ignorant idiot reporter on CNN—yes, I mentioned it—say that ‘this caravan has been going on for many years, and they’ve been doing it.’ Well, I hadn’t heard of it, so I think it’s B.S., I don’t think it’s just a good-time caravan.”
The group Pueblo Sin Fronteras has organized the “Viacrucis Migrante” (Migrant Stations of the Cross, as it coincides with Easter) every year since about 2010 or 2011. Its purpose has been to draw attention to abuse and lack of protection faced by Central American migrants inside Mexico.
An agent working at the U.S.-Mexico border probably wouldn’t have known much about it, because past caravans didn’t arrive there en masse—they tended to disperse even before reaching Mexico City. This year’s caravan also shed most of its participants by the time it reached the border and began petitioning for asylum. But approximately 200 did make it. What’s different this time? First, the event was larger, fed in part by a sharp increase in Honduran families. Second, it drew President Trump’s attention thanks to a Buzzfeed story that got picked up by Fox News. The increased international attention probably helped keep it together.
- At 40:30: “If they really wanted asylum, though, why don’t they go to the port of entry and do it the right way? Why do they choose to enter without inspection between the ports? Why do they EWI? Because, I don’t know, let’s think about it. Maybe their intentions are not good? Just a thought, throwing it out there.”
Days after Del Cueto made this observation, 200 Caravan members are now in Tijuana, outside the San Ysidro port of entry, waiting their turns to have their asylum claims processed. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel charged with evaluating credible fear claims are already overwhelmed.
The Trump administration is promising to start fully enforcing existing law, which would require criminal prosecutions, fines and even jail time for every single person—even an asylum-seeking family—who crosses the border between ports of entry. 303,916 people were apprehended while crossing that way in 2017, and that was the lowest number in 47 years. Processing all of them would badly clog the courts. Many protection-seeking Central American children and families go this route, either because they don’t know the proper procedure, or because their smugglers force them to cross between the ports—as a National Border Patrol Council representative told a Senate committee in 2015.
117,300 children and family-unit members from Central America’s Northern Triangle countries were apprehended between ports of entry last year. If a similar number instead gets routed to seek asylum at the 44 ports of entry, CBP officers stationed there will not come close to meeting the demand to be processed. The agency already has a shortfall of over 1,000 officers, and many are being forced to work double shifts. Add that many more asylum applicants, and our border crossings will collapse.