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Community mourns, seeks justice for David Villalobos, killed by a Border Patrol agent

Pedro Ríos  |  Issue: November | December 2020
David Villalobos altar
A photo of David Villalobos, who a Border Patrol agent shot and killed in San Ysidro on October 23, 2020, was displayed at an altar at a new mural memorializing victims of Border Patrol brutality in San Diego’s iconic Chicano Park.

On October 23, Border Patrol agent Ryan Gonsalves fatally shot 30-year-old David Villalobos behind the Las Americas Premium Outlets complex in San Ysidro. The incident occurred just feet away from the PedWest border crossing. The incident also occurred about 100 feet from where Anastasio Hernández Rojas was tortured with beatings and Tasers 10 years ago, also by border agents.

Villalobos’ death is another tragic incident in a long list of cases involving border agents who are never held accountable for their actions. The San Diego Police Department has jurisdiction over the investigation. However, Alliance San Diego and the American Friends Service Committee wrote a letter cautioning the San Diego police chief to conduct the investigation in an impartial manner without any intrusion by Department of Homeland Security agencies, especially the Border Patrol. The letter states: “Given the missteps of prior investigations, particularly in the killing of Anastasio Hernández Rojas 10 years ago by border agents in the same area, it is imperative that the SDPD follow the highest standards of a homicide investigation.”

According to Villalobos’ family, he was attempting to return home where he had a 12-year-old son. He was known as a caring man, who was developmentally delayed as a result of problems with his birth. His family also asserts that Villalobos was not an aggressive person, and he dedicated his time to exercising as he dreamed of becoming a boxer.

Maria Puga speaks at a vigil held for David Villalobos
Maria Puga, an advocate against Border Patrol brutality, speaks at a vigil held for David Villalobos, who a Border Patrol agent shot and killed in San Ysidro on October 23, 2020. Ten years earlier, on May 28, 2010, border agents beat and tortured Maria’s own husband, Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, and left him braindead. He died three days later.

Though the area where Villalobos died is covered by surveillance cameras, information about what led Agent Gonsalves to shoot Villalobos are not yet known. There are cameras also set-up at the outlets store complex, but the San Diego Police Department has yet to release video of the incident.

The San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, a coalition of over 50 organizations in San Diego, organized a vigil days after the shooting where they brought cempasuchil flowers, typically used for Day of the Dead celebrations. Speakers also reiterated the call for the San Diego Police Department to conduct an impartial investigation, but they also noted that Border Patrol agents operate within a culture of impunity.

While families memorialize their loved ones for Day of the Dead, the White House instead attempted to usurp the November 2 Mexican celebration with a provocative proclamation of a “National Day of Remembrance for Americans Killed by Illegal Aliens [sic].” The proclamation lists policies targeting migrants and border communities. Yet those are the same policies that cause death and despair as they decimate the asylum process and criminalize migrants.

For Villalobos’ family, as they are trying to get questions answered about why Agent Gonsalves shot Villalobos, they also must now contend with the difficult mourning process, of raising funds to bury their loved one, and of Villalobos becoming another name on the long list of people who have been victimized by border agents.  San Diego-based organizations will continue to work with Villalobos’ family to seek justice in this case.

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