Despite a drop in apprehensions of illegal immigrants, altercations involving border patrol agents and migrants have risen in recent years. Rock throwing by migrants at agents grew by almost 25 percent between 2007 and 2010, according to data from Customs and Border Protection. And fatal shootings of migrants by agents have also grown, from one in 2008 to five in 2011. (Brad Racino/KPBS)

Deadly patrols Part 2: Political climate limits prosecutions in border shootings

Second of two parts. See the first part: Deadly patrols: Illegal immigrant shot by US agent recounts ‘terror’ in the desert.

BISBEE, Arizona – Take a map of Arizona, draw a square in the bottom right hand corner –  the one closest to New Mexico and the international border – and you get Cochise County. Fewer people live here than in many cities, and it’s part of the nation’s most active illegal immigration corridor.

With a history of public art controversies and two coffee roasters, Bisbee seems more Bezerkeley than border town. But over at the courthouse, there’s no mistaking its place on the line between Mexico and the United States.

County Attorney Edward Rheinheimer, who has practiced here for 20 years, has seen more than half a dozen cases involving border patrol agents fatally shooting people. He’s taken only one of them to trial. Twice that case ended in a hung jury.

These cases are tough to prove, for reasons ranging from contested facts to politics, he and other legal experts said. But as the number of civilian deaths involving border agents rises – from one four years ago to five last year – it’s not just human rights activists who say there should be more accountability and oversight.

George McCubbin, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing 17,000 Border Patrol Agents and support staff, says reforms leading to fewer fatal shootings by the border patrol are in order.

“If our employees are being put in positions where this is going to be a semi-normal action then we need to rethink as an agency how we’re doing business out there,” he said.

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