Mexican nationals attempting to illegally enter the U.S. by scaling a fence near San Ysidro, Calif., Tuesday night threw a barrage of rocks and chunks of concrete at U.S. Border Patrol agents, who responded with gunfire. One of the Mexicans was wounded.
The agents first tried to disperse the group of up to 15 Mexicans, said San Diego Police Lt. Terry McManus, by launching nonlethal pepper balls at the men. When some of the men continued to target agents with rocks, the incident escalated into a shooting, with one of the men being struck in the torso.
A Mexican national identified by the Red Cross as Edgar Israel Ortega Chavez, 23, was wounded and treated at a hospital in Tijuana. The agent who shot the man was not identified, but Lt. McManus said the agent had been with the Border Patrol for 10 years and opened fire after fearing for his life and the safety of other agents.
The agent reportedly fired a two-round burst from his rifle. A spokesman for the Tijuana General Hospital said Mr. Ortega suffered a single gunshot wound and remained in police custody after undergoing surgery. He was in stable condition.
The 10 p.m. incident occurred in an area of the border where violence has been on a huge upturn. Border Patrol supervising agent Richard Smith said there have been 330 assaults on agents so far this year, compared to 254 reported incidents in all of 2007.
According to Tijuana police, the shooting occurred in an area known as Colonia Empleados Federales. They said officers initially responded to a call that Border Patrol agents were being assaulted, but when they arrived they found Mr. Ortega lying on the ground, wounded. They also located a tear-gas canister and two spent cartridges from a .223-caliber weapon.
No Border Patrol agents were injured during the incident.
San Diego police and the FBI are investigating the shooting.
Rep. Brian P. Bilbray, California Republican and chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus, called the incident "another reminder that illegal activity at our border is still a major problem in our country.
"The men and women of our Border Patrol are knowingly putting their lives at risk," Mr. Bilbray said. "These are the people who are on the front lines of our effort to keep our country secure and they should have our full support. This incident also highlights the need to finish the San Diego border fence project, which provides our agents with another layer of protection on what is clearly a dangerous border."
Because of rising violence, much of it aimed at Border Patrol agents, U.S. Customs and Border Protection in October issued its agents the FN-303 launcher, a less lethal tool that uses compressed air to launch a plastic projectile containing pepper spray balls that burst on impact.
"This 'entrenchment mentality' along with a willingness to engage our officers has resulted in an escalation in violence and assaults against Border Patrol agents," Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar said at the time. "Our agents are trained, equipped and prepared to take appropriate actions when confronted with assaultive actions. Split-second decisions must be made by our officers in responding to threats and the means by which to engage the threats that they face in protecting our nation's borders."
He noted that the decision to use any weapon an agent has access to in confronting an assault "is up to the individual agent and his or her perception of the danger or physical harm that he or she faces."
The FN-303 initially was deployed in the San Diego, El Centro, Calif., Tucson and Yuma, Ariz., sectors, where agents experienced the greatest increase in assaults by criminal aliens, border bandits and drug smugglers.