Chertoff hits release order in agent death

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Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Wednesday said he was “shocked and appalled” that a Mexican judge had ordered the release of a 22-year-old Mexican national arrested in January on charges of running over and killing a U.S. Border Patrol agent attempting to stop suspected drug smugglers as they fled back across the border.

Jesus Navarro Montes was arrested Jan. 22 by Mexican state and federal authorities in the town of El Yaqui, in the northern state of Sonora, after a three-day international manhunt.

His capture followed the death of Border Patrol Agent Luis Aguilar Jr., 32, killed as he tried to lay spike strips on a highway near the Imperial Sand Dunes in California, 20 miles west of Yuma, Ariz.

“Agent Aguilar was killed in a heinous act of violence on January 19 in the Yuma Sector, while attempting to stop two vehicles that illegally entered the country and were absconding into Mexico,” Mr. Chertoff said. “We are working with a determined Mexican government, and our Department of Justice, to seek swift justice for the Aguilar murder.”

Two federal law-enforcement officials confirmed Wednesday that Navarro Montes was released June 17 by a local judge in Mexicali after he had applied for and was granted bail. The officials, who asked for anonymity because of diplomatic concerns in the case, said Mexican federal authorities were not aware of the release until Wednesday afternoon.

The officials said the Mexican Attorney General’s Office has since issued an order that Navarro Montes be located and detained. The name of the Mexican judge was not made public. Navarro Montes remains at large.

One of the law-enforcement officials, both of whom are familiar with the investigation, said U.S. authorities were convinced that Mexico’s government was “equally frustrated and concerned” about what had happened and was attempting to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion.

FBI agents from the San Diego field office had led the investigation, focusing on reports that Navarro Montes was the driver of a Hummer that struck and killed Mr. Aguilar, a six-year Border Patrol veteran.

The Mexican Embassy in Washington, which announced the arrest, said a preliminary investigation into the killing found that Navarro Montes had left the city of Mexicali and was headed for the U.S. “driving a Hummer vehicle, presumably carrying drugs.”

The embassy said that as Border Patrol agents tried to stop the vehicle, “Agent Aguilar was run down, and Mr. Navarro fled the scene back to Mexican territory.” It said Navarro Montes would be prosecuted on pending charges in Mexico, but they were awaiting an extradition request from the United States. Mexico does not extradite suspects who face the death penalty, and first-degree murder of a federal officer is a capital offense.

National Border Patrol Council President T.J. Bonner, whose group represents the agency’s 16,000 nonsupervisory agents, said, “Every Border Patrol agent in the country is outraged and stunned by this.”

Rep. Brian P. Bilbray, California Republican and chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus, said he was “infuriated by the release,” and called on Mexican President Felipe Calderon “to investigate and provide us with a full explanation, which the family of Mr. Aguilar rightfully deserves.”

“The United States has made great efforts to cooperate with Mexico on a number of issues - most recently to help them crack down on the escalating violence being carried out by drug cartels,” he said. “Mexico needs to learn that cooperation is a two-way street. President Calderon needs to provide us with answers, and soon.”

Navarro Montes had been arrested and imprisoned earlier for transporting 10 illegal immigrants to the U.S., Mexican authorities said. A warrant for his arrest also was issued in Mexicali on human-trafficking counts, they said.

“We have also assured Agent Aguilar´s family that every resource is being called upon in the relentless pursuit of justice,” Mr. Chertoff said, adding that the agent’s death “represents a tragic example of border violence.”

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