PHOENIX -- Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher issued new orders Friday telling agents not to place themselves in front of moving vehicles and to avoid situations in which they have no alternative to using deadly force against rock throwers.
The Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection also publicly released the full text of their use-of-force policies, which had been secret until a copy was leaked to the press in January. Agency officials have been under growing public pressure to address a lack of transparency and accountability in cases of questionable use of deadly force by agents.
An investigation by The Arizona Republic in December found Border Patrol agents and CBP officers had been involved in at least 42 use-of-force deaths since 2005, with many of the cases cloaked in secrecy. In none of these cases are any agents known to have faced discipline or consequences, even in cases that appear questionable, such as when agents shot unarmed teenagers in the back.
Critics were pleased with Friday's announcement but many said it was not enough.
"We welcome Chief Fisher's guidance as an important, but incomplete, step forward in overhauling the agency's use of force policies," said Juanita Molina, executive director of the Border Action Network, a coalition of human-rights groups.
Molina, the American Civil Liberties Union and others called for CBP to release an unredacted copy of a critical review of its use-of-force policies by the Police Executive Research Forum, a law-enforcement research organization.
She said the Police Executive Research Forum is the gold standard for police agencies and "the public has a right to know what these recommendations were."
Fisher's directive follows current Homeland Security guidelines, which hold that agents should only use deadly force when they believe, based on "the totality of the circumstances," that the force used against them poses imminent danger of death or serious injury to them or another person.
But Fisher's directive also provided more detailed guidance in two areas:
"Agents should not place themselves in the path of a moving vehicle or use their body to block a vehicle's path," he wrote. In rock-throwing incidents, "Agents should avoid placing themselves in positions where they have no alternative to using deadly force ... (and) should obtain a tactical advantage in these situations, such as seeking cover or distancing themselves from the immediate area of danger."
The directive does not address how use-of-force incidents are investigated, or the fact that CBP doesn't release the names of agents involved in deadly incidents and doesn't release the outcomes of its internal investigations or any actions it takes.
New Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson ordered a review of the use-of-force policies in early January, with CBP and the Border Patrol examining potential changes since then.
The number of people killed by the Border Patrol since 2005 had risen to at least 44 as of Friday. Those include eight incidents in which agents fired across the border into Mexico and killed rock throwers.
In one of the most widely publicized of those deaths, in October 2012, an agent firing through the border fence into Nogales, Mexico, shot teenager Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez 10 times in the back and head. Two witnesses on the Mexican side said the youth was just walking down the street, and was shot after several other people ran past him away from the fence.
The deaths also include a highly-publicized case in San Diego in September 2012 in which a Border Patrol agent shot to death Valeria Tachiquin-Alvarado, a U.S. citizen, as she was trying to drive away in her car. In a lawsuit, Tachiquin Alvarado's family has charged that the agent needlessly placed himself in front of the vehicle.
Molina, in an interview, said more than just updating the use of force policies, the Border Patrol must release information into prior deadly shootings by its agents.
"In cases that involve death, it is absolutely critical to have resolution," Molina said. "Unfortunately for most of these cases there is no resolution."