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Originally published September 20, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 14, 2010 at 11:57 AM

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America's Immigration Dilemma

Military presence: Plan for border troops stirs bad memories

This tiny town is haunted by a tragedy from the last major intersection of the U.S. military and border security. Esequiel Hernandez, an 18-year-old...

McClatchy Newspapers

REDFORD, Texas — This tiny town is haunted by a tragedy from the last major intersection of the U.S. military and border security.

Esequiel Hernandez, an 18-year-old goat herder and U.S. citizen, was shot to death by a Marine on a covert anti-drug mission on May 20, 1997. Then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush sent condolences to the family, and the kind of armed military border patrols that led to the teenager's death ended abruptly.

Now president, Bush in May offered a broad proposal to toughen border security. As part of it, he authorized 6,000 National Guard troops through 2008 to free up Border Patrol agents to do more field work. A Senate bill, meanwhile, has called for the hiring of 14,000 agents, more than double today's force.

Hundreds of Texas Guard troops have supported the Border Patrol since 1989 and still do, officials said. Among the Guard's tasks: detection and monitoring, medical aid, engineering support, vehicle maintenance, barrier construction and road building.

But in this desolate, poverty-stricken slice of border, memories from the Hernandez shooting remain fresh and the specter of military presence sparks fear and distrust.

A small, wrought-iron monument marks the spot where Hernandez died.

"In this poor place with this poor history is where Marines come and kill an American citizen," said businessman Enrique Madrid, 58. "It's where they want to militarize the border. It's where they want to put walls in."

Exactly what happened in this dusty town nine years ago continues to be the subject of controversy and mystery. It inspired the recent Tommy Lee Jones film "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada."

The Marines said Hernandez shot first, firing a .22-caliber rifle at four heavily camouflaged servicemen. A corporal returned fire with a single shot from an M-16, they said.

A 1998 report by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, uncovered "serious doubts" about that version, concluding that stonewalling from agencies created the "disquieting impression that justice has not been done in this case, and may never be done."

The Hernandez family settled a lawsuit for $1.9 million; the government did not acknowledge wrongdoing.

Details on the Senate bill were provided

by The Washington Post.

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