In 2010, a U.S. Border Patrol agent, surveying the borderlands between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico, shot and killed an unarmed Mexican teenager. The bullet crossed the border—agent Jesus Mesa Jr. was standing in Texas when he shot Sergio Hernandez, who was crouching on Mexican soil, in the face.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court finally agreed to hear arguments to decide if Hernandez’ parents are allowed to sue Mesa in U.S. court for killing their son, even though the 15-year-old boy never touched U.S. soil.
Lawyers for the Hernandez parents say that constitutional protections should be extended to Mexican citizens, like their son, along the border regions heavily patrolled by trigger-happy U.S. agents. If the court sides with the Hernandez', lawmakers would need to map out some type of boundary of protection extending into Mexican borderlands. This request is similar, they said, to the rights given to foreign prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, who are protected by U.S. law despite being detained in Cuba.
According to the family’s lawsuit, Hernandez and his teenage friends were playing what sounds like a border-town version of ‘chicken’ on the day he was killed, daring each other to run up and touch the barbed-wire border fence—then sprint back. Mesa believed they were trying to hop the border, and tried to detain one of them. Then, according to court documents, he shot Hernandez in the face.
The next day, the FBI said Mesa shot Hernandez in self-defense—alleging that the group of teens threw rocks at the armed agent when he tried to detain their friend. A cell phone video recorded at the time, however, shows otherwise.
After years of pushing for justice, the Hernandez family finally got their case in front of the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. But the court, most recently known for repeatedly blocking President Obama’s immigration reform measures, ruled against Hernandez on the simple grounds that he died on Mexican soil. Specifically, the court decided, he had no “significant voluntary connection” to the U.S. It seems Mesa’s bullet wasn't enough of a connection for the Fifth Circuit.
The Supreme Court waited a year before moving on the case, which will be heard in oral arguments later this year.