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Death of illegal immigrant at San Diego crossing prompts outcry

June 1, 2010 |  6:16 pm

The death of an illegal immigrant who was shot with a Taser during a struggle with U.S. authorities Friday night has prompted condemnations and calls for an investigation by immigrant rights groups and the Mexican government.

Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, 32, was being removed from the country through the San Diego-Tijuana border crossing when he became combative and was Tasered by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent, according to a statement released by the agency. Hernandez died the next day at a hospital in Chula Vista.

San Diego police, who are investigating, said it’s unclear what triggered the altercation. The Mexican government called the death a tragedy and demanded an exhaustive investigation, a typical response in immigrant-related shooting deaths.

Hernandez, a construction worker and father of five, was a longtime San Diego resident who was deported last week after an unspecified run-in with San Diego police, said Christian Ramirez, the national coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee, who said he has spoken with the family.

Hernandez tried to re-enter the country Friday, but was arrested by U.S. Border Patrol agents, who processed him at a station and then took him to the pedestrian border crossing at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. The deportation area, ringed by tall fencing, is where U.S. agents every day hand over apprehended illegal immigrants to Mexican authorities.

When agents took off the handcuffs, Hernandez became violent, according to San Diego Police Capt. Jim Collins. Efforts to subdue Hernandez with a baton failed, he said, and when he and the agents fell to the ground, an agent shot Hernandez with the stun gun.

The cause of death has yet to be determined, said Ian Nakar of the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Rights groups question the tactics and say some witnesses suggest that agents’ use of force was excessive.

Hernandez, whose five children were born in the U.S., was simply trying to be reunited with his family, said Ramirez. He said Hernandez was 42, not 32 as reported by U.S. authorities, and had lived in the U.S. since he was 14 years old.

“It’s a tragedy that could have been prevented,” Ramirez said.

U.S. officials declined to comment aside from a brief statement. “Customs and Border Protection regrets the loss of life and awaits the results of a complete investigation into this incident,” the statement says.

-- Richard Marosi from San Diego

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