A U.S. Border Patrol agent can be sued for firing across the border and killing a 15-year-old Mexican boy, a federal appeals court ruled Monday. The Los Angeles Times called it “a decision with potentially broad consequences for the highly charged issue of law enforcement’s use of deadly force along the border.” A 2-1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans said the allegations in the 2010 shooting of Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, if proved in court, would amount to “an official abuse of power so arbitrary as to shock the conscience.” Because of that, the case can go forward, the judges ruled. Lawyers in the case say it’s the first time an appeals court has extended the protections of the U.S. Constitution to a noncitizen on the Mexican side of the U.S. border.
“It’s a huge human rights victory,” said Robert Hilliard, who represents the boy’s family. “It gives you a voice inside a U.S. courtroom. They have to focus on, ‘Did the border agent do something wrong?'” The decision was written narrowly and is unlikely to be the final word on the case. The lawyer for the agent who shot Hernandez said he would ask the full appeals court to consider the case. “Classifying it as a leap is an understatement,” said attorney Randolph Ortega. “They have extended the protections of the U.S. courts into foreign countries where the U.S. does not have any jurisdiction.” The ruling comes as the Border Patrol has tried to put more controls on agents’ use of deadly force after a series of shootings that raised questions about the agency’s training and internal investigations.