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U.S. Supreme Court's Ruling On Texas Cross-Border Shooting May Impact Arizona Lawsuit

Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez picture
Michel Marizco/KJZZ
Taide Elena holds a portrait of her dead grandson, José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, in 2012.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Tuesday to close the courthouse door on the parents of a Mexican teenager who was shot dead over the border by an American agent.

The court's five conservative justices held that the parents could not use American courts to sue Border Patrol Agent Jesus Mesa Jr., who killed their unarmed 15-year-old son in 2010. Mesa was on U.S. soil in Texas when he fired the fatal shot.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court that the case is tragic, but that strong border security and international relations issues led to the ruling against the parents of Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca.

“Since regulating the conduct of agents at the border unquestionably has national security implications, the risk of undermining border security provides reasons to hesitate" about allowing the parents to sue in American courts, Alito wrote.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for her liberal colleagues, disagreed, saying the parents' lawsuit does not endanger border security or U.S. foreign policy.

Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department said in a statement Tuesday it “regretted” the Supreme Court ruling.

Tuesday's outcome also is certain to doom a lawsuit filed by the parents of a teenager killed in Nogales, Mexico, from gunshots fired across the border by a U.S. agent who was standing in Arizona. That case has been on hold.

In the Arizona case, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to reach a decision in that case first before moving forward on a civil lawsuit decision.

In that instance, former Agent Lonnie Swartz fired into Mexico, killing Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. Defense attorneys alleged he’d fired in defense after a rock attack. Prosecutors said he’d overreacted.

Juries found Swartz not guilty in two criminal trials over the shooting.

Vicki Gaubeca is the director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, which represents some 60 organizations that promote rational and humane immigration and border enforcement policies. Gaubeca joined The Show to talk about her reaction to the ruling.

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Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.