Immigrant advocates are calling out U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in San Ysidro after circulating photos that depict agents showing children how to shoot less-than-lethal rounds at a human-like target.
The controversy revolves around a series of photos taken last June at a law enforcement expo that coincided with the annual San Diego Fallen Agents Memorial 5k Run.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, agents showed the public how to fire rounds from a pepper ball gun at a metal cutout of a person dressed in a T-shirt and jeans – standard for law enforcement and amateur shooters, authorities said.
“Had they had a bulls-eye, had they had some sort of silhouette that’s used in shooting ranges, I think it probably would’ve not been such a huge issue,” immigrant rights activist Pedro Rios told NBC San Diego.
“It resembles who the targets are for border patrol,” he added.
In a statement, Rios said: “While encouraging children to use guns to shoot at a migrant effigy is unconscionable, it is also symbolic of the agency’s unabashed culture of violence, which has grown from a lack of accountability, oversight and unprofessional standards that rebuke best practices in situations involving use-of-force.”
According to the Union-Tribune, the target was set up against a rusted fence that separates the parking lot of the Las Americas outlet mall, in San Ysidro, from the zone where agents patrol the actual border.
A spokesperson with Border Patrol said the event was a family-friendly event where off-duty agents held various demonstrations to raise awareness about law enforcement tools without the use of deadly force. Agents said any claims that they were teaching children to “attack migrants” are false.
Rios, chairman of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, and other immigrant advocates are using the incident to call for Border Patrol to release more information surrounding the number of immigrant fatalities involving agents along the border.
He called the paint ball activity insensitive and urged agents to remove the activity from future events.