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The Political Exploitation of Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez

Summary:
Last November, Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez died in the line of duty.  At the time, it was unclear how Agent Martinez perished and many jumped to the conclusion that he was murdered.  Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX) said Martinez was killed in “an attack.”  Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) went further, arguing that Rogelio’s death shows just how insecure the border is and that the Border Patrol needs more resources.  A spokesperson for the National Border Patrol Council, the union for Border Patrol agents, said that Martinez may have been bludgeoned to death by rocks.  They all jumped the gun. Martinez’s death remains a mystery, but an FBI investigation found no evidence of an attack.  The government records all Border Patrol agent and Customs officer deaths in the line of

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Last November, Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez died in the line of duty.  At the time, it was unclear how Agent Martinez perished and many jumped to the conclusion that he was murdered.  Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX) said Martinez was killed in “an attack.”  Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) went further, arguing that Rogelio’s death shows just how insecure the border is and that the Border Patrol needs more resources.  A spokesperson for the National Border Patrol Council, the union for Border Patrol agents, said that Martinez may have been bludgeoned to death by rocks.  They all jumped the gun.

Martinez’s death remains a mystery, but an FBI investigation found no evidence of an attack.  The government records all Border Patrol agent and Customs officer deaths in the line of duty.  A total of 33 Border Patrol agents died from 2003 through 2017 (Table 1).  The ratio of agents to deaths was the lowest in 2004, but more agents died in 2012.  The annual chance of a Border Patrol agent dying in the line of duty was about one in 7,968 per year during the whole period.  Only six of the 33 Border Patrol agents who died in the line of duty were murdered.  The only confirmed murder in 2017 was of Border Patrol Agent Isaac Morales.  Twenty-six died because of accidents and Rogelio’s death is still a mystery (Table 2).   

Although Border Patrol agents do sometimes die tragically, they are less likely to be murdered on the job than the average American.  Since 2003, about 1 in 43,824 Border Patrol were murdered each year while on the job.  That compares favorably to about 1 in 19,431 Americans murdered per year over the same time.   Regular Americans were more than twice as likely to be murdered in any year from 2003 through 2017 than Border Patrol agents were.

Hopefully, investigators will soon discover how Agent Rogelio Martinez actually died.  In the meantime, the political circus surrounding his tragic death should be a lesson to all public officials and unions involved: Don’t use the death of a Border Patrol agent to argue for policy changes until you have all of the facts.

Table 1

Border Patrol Agent Deaths Per Year

  Deaths Number of Agents Agents Per Death Percent Death
2003

1

10,717

10,717

0.009%

2004

3

10,819

3,606

0.028%

2005

0

11,264

N/A

0.000%

2006

2

12,349

6,175

0.016%

2007

4

14,923

3,731

0.027%

2008

2

17,499

8,750

0.011%

2009

3

20,119

6,706

0.015%

2010

3

20,558

6,853

0.015%

2011

2

21,444

10,722

0.009%

2012

5

21,394

4,279

0.023%

2013

0

21,394

N/A

0.000%

2014

3

20,863

6,954

0.014%

2015

0

20,273

N/A

0.000%

2016

3

19,828

6,609

0.015%

2017

2

19,500

9,750

0.010%

Total

33

262,944

7,968

0.013%

Source:  Customs and Border Protection.

Table 2

Border Patrol Agents, Cause of Death, and Year of Death, 2003-2017

Name Year Cause of Death
Rogelio Martinez 2017 Unknown (Likely Accident)
Isaac Morales 2017 Assault/Murder
David Gomez 2016 Accident (Health)
Manuel A. Alvarez 2016 Car Accident
Jose D. Barraza 2016 Car Accident
Tyler R. Robledo 2014 Car Accident
Javier Vega, Jr. 2014 Assault/Murder
Alexander I. Giannini 2014 Car Accident
David R. Delaney 2012 Accident (Health)
Nicholas J. Ivie 2012 Assault/Murder
Jeffrey Ramirez 2012 Accident (Health)
James R. Dominguez 2012 Car Accident
Leopoldo Cavazos Jr. 2012 Car Accident
Eduardo Rojas Jr. 2011 Car Accident
Hector R. Clark 2011 Car Accident
Brian A. Terry 2010 Assault/Murder
Michael V. Gallagher 2010 Car Accident
Mark F. Van Doren 2010 Car Accident
Robert W. Rosas Jr. 2009 Assault/Murder
Cruz C. McGuire 2009 Accident (Health)
Nathaniel A. Afolayan 2009 Accident (Health)
Jarod C. Dittman 2008 Car Accident
Luis Aguilar 2008 Assault/Murder
Eric Cabral 2007 Accident (Health)
Richard Goldstein 2007 Accident (Drowning)
David J. Tourscher 2007 Car Accident
Ramon Nevarez Jr. 2007 Car Accident
David N. Webb 2006 Car Accident
Nicholas D. Greenig 2006 Car Accident
George B. DeBates 2004 Car Accident
Travis W. Attaway 2004 Accident (Drowning)
Jeremy M. Wilson 2004 Accident (Drowning)
James P. Epling 2003 Accident (Drowning)

Source: Customs and Border Protection.

Alex Nowrasteh
He is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. His popular publications have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, and elsewhere. His academic publications have appeared in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, the Fletcher Security Review, and Public Choice.

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