security guard

As reported by the Texas Tribune on Sept. 4, the Texas Supreme Court might rule this month on Rodriguez v. Boerjan: a case that seems straightforward, but highlights a gray area in the legal status afforded to undocumented immigrants.

In 2007, a car with a group of undocumented immigrants tried to get around a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in Brooks County by crossing land belonging to the Mestena Group, a company dealing largely in uranium production. After Philip Boerjan, a security guard, stopped the vehicle, the driver took off, starting a high-speed pursuit down a dusty caliche road. The chase ended in a rollover accident that killed three of the car’s passengers — a couple and their 7-year-old daughter.

The family of the deceased filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Boerjan and the company, claiming that the pursuit constituted negligence, assault and other related offenses.

The defendants responded that they were not liable for the deaths, as the plaintiffs’ wrongful death charges “are inextricably intertwined with the decedents’ illegal activities and, accordingly, are barred under the Unlawful Acts Rule.”

The Unlawful Acts Rule is a long-standing doctrine that bars people from seeking recompense for damages if they cannot separate the claims from their own illegal activity.

A state court, sympathetic to that argument, dismissed the charges in 2011. After the Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, Boerjan and the company appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

No one contests that the occupants of the car were trespassing on private property, lending credence to Boerjan and the Mestena Group’s arguments.

We concur with Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who filed an amicus brief on their behalf that read in part, “Key to the preservation and promotion of agriculture is the protection of private property owners’ rights ... The court must recognize and continue to apply established Texas law recognizing these rights.”

Boerjan, in his capacity as a security guard, was well within his rights to confront and pursue intruders, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.

Even so, the case raises a difficult question. Undocumented immigrants are committing an unlawful act simply by being on American soil. Does the Unlawful Acts Rule grant immunity to anyone who normally would be liable for damages, as long as the victim is in this country illegally?

The Mexican government and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund both filed amicus briefs expressing that concern. A decision “to allow a person’s immigration status to bar his recovery in tort,” read the MALDEF brief, “will leave undocumented immigrants without civil remedies, and will encourage vigilantism and lawlessness directed against the Latino community.”

In this particular case, we feel that Boerjan acted appropriately and should not be held liable for the fate of those who trespassed on private property. Nevertheless, we hope that the court is careful not to set a precedent that prevents people from suing because of their undocumented status even when they are wronged on American soil.

Undocumented immigrants are still human beings and should have the ability to seek legal redress for persecution done to them.

MISRATA, Libya — The bodies of Moammar Gadhafi, his son Muatassim and a former aide have been moved from a commercial freezer in a warehouse area of Misrata in anticipation of burial, a security guard said.

Local military spokesman Ibrahim Beitalmal has said the burial is likely to take place Tuesday. He said the three men would be interred in unmarked graves in a secret location to avoid vandalism. Asked about the removal of the bodies from the freezer, he said he was unaware of the process of burial getting under way.

However, Salem al-Mohandes, a security guard at the warehouse complex, said the bodies were moved late Monday from the freezer, where they had been on display for the past four days.

“Our job is finished,” said al-Mohandes. “He [Gadhafi] was transferred, and the military council of Misrata took him away to an unknown location. I don’t know whether they buried him or not.”

An Associated Press Television News team saw three vehicles leave the warehouse area late Monday. The team then entered the freezer and found it empty. 

An audience of about 400 people jumped to their feet as a security guard escorted actress and activist Shabana Azmi toward the stage of the Texas Union Theater on Wednesday.

She spoke to students about how her roles in more than 60 movies since the 1970s have influenced her history of social activism in issues like poverty and women’s rights.

After playing a woman in a difficult marriage who stood up to her husband, she became interested in the women’s movement. While researching a part as a woman from a poor village, she was exposed to the poverty many faced in rural India.

“I could not say ‘I will use you’ — take from your life, to enrich myself and maybe win an award, but then have nothing to do with you,” Azmi said. “When you’re working in meaningful cinema, some of the residue of the characters you are doing is bound to filter in to your life.”

She said cinema and all other art can not directly bring about change, but it can create a climate of sensitivity for change to occur.

Azmi gained a high level of recognition from her career as an actress in India, but her influence extends far beyond the sphere of cinema, said Asian studies associate professor Syed Akbar Hyder.

“She is one of India’s leading public intellectuals,” he said.

Azmi’s work as a social activist includes working to improve conditions for AIDS victims, slum dwellers and day-laborers, Hyder said. She was nominated to the Indian Parliament in 1997 and served as the goodwill ambassador for India.

“She has bridged the divide between art and activism perhaps better than anyone else in India,” Hyder said. “Her art is very much informed by her social concerns.”

Wednesday’s event was the first of its Golden Jubilee series, which celebrates 50 years of South Asian studies at UT. Jonathan Seefeldt, spokesman for the Hindi Urdu Flagship Program, said the event was particularly relevant to students in the program, who have studied her work.

“She has been a unique voice in India for a long time now,”
he said.

The Hindi Urdu Flagship is a four-year undergraduate program open to all majors. Seefeldt said students in some Flagship classes watch Azmi’s films, read poems written by her father, Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi, and discuss the work of her mother, stage actress Shaukat Azmi.

Azmi was in Austin for yesterday’s live performance of the play “Broken Images” at the Texas School for the Deaf. The play is currently touring the United States, Seefeldt said.