More than two years after Border Patrol Agent Javier Vega Jr. died defending his family from two men who illegally crossed the border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has classified his murder as a “line of duty death.”
The designation will allow Vega’s family to receive federal death benefits.
The National Border Patrol Council announced the decision Wednesday afternoon. A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, confirmed the decision to CBS 4 News.
On August 3, 2014, Javier Vega Jr., or “Harvey” as his family and friends knew him, was enjoying family time with his wife (Andrea), sons (Jiovanni & Jarod), and his parents (Javier Sr. & Marie). The family was fishing at one of their favorite family spots located in an isolated area of Willacy County, Texas, which sits approximately 35 miles north of the U.S. / Mexico Border in South Texas (Rio Grande Valley). As they were enjoying their day, two men (who were later identified as criminal illegal aliens) approached the family and attempted to rob them, subsequently opening fire on the family. Harvey was shot and killed during the commission of this criminal act, while attempting to protect his family from these two criminal aliens, who had both been previously deported several times. During the shootout with the two criminal aliens, Javier Sr. was also shot and is still recovering to this day. Harvey lost his life doing what he had been doing all of his life, which was protecting others. As a former U.S. Marine, Harvey was drawn to the Border Patrol out of a sense of duty and patriotism. His life was cut short in front of his spouse, children and parents, a tragedy in and of itself, but when you add the fact that his murderers were criminal aliens illegally in the United States who never should have been present in our country, it makes the situation that much more tragic.
The men, Ismael Hernandez and Gustavo Tijerina, remain in jail awaiting trial.
Vela and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, wrote a letter to Customs and Border Protection last week, urging Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske to classify Vega’s murder as a line of duty death.
Javier Vega was a hero who upheld his oath to protect and serve even while off-duty and should be honored as a hero and patriot. The criteria for classifying his death as line of duty fatality is consistent with your Office’s Valor Memorial Directive, as well as those used for the National Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial, which states that fallen officers include those who, while in an off-duty capacity, act in response to a violation of law. Thus, there is no reason why Agent Vega should not be honored among those officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan announced the decision with a memo to agents:
Ladies and Gentlemen:
On August 3, 2014, Border Patrol Agent Javier Vega, Jr. was killed during an aggravated robbery attempt near Harlingen, Texas while he was off duty. At that time, a committee of U.S. Border Patrol Chiefs reviewed all available information about the robbery attempt that resulted in Agent Vega’s murder and were unable to identify a nexus to employment. Without this nexus, the committee had no choice but to make the determination that Agent Vega’s death was not in the line of duty.
On September 20, 2016, the same committee of U.S. Border Patrol Chiefs re-evaluated the original determination in light of information identified during the intensive investigation completed by the Willacy County Sheriff’s Department. Based on this information, the committee determined that Agent Vega’s actions were indicative of his law enforcement training and that he instinctively reacted, placing himself in harm’s way to stop a criminal act and protect the lives of others. The committee has reversed its original decision and determined that Agent Vega did in fact die in the line of duty. I concur with the committee’s determination.
Agent Javier Vega Jr. will be added to the CBP Valor Memorial. The complete investigation, along with our conclusions, will be provided to the Public Safety Officers Benefits (PSOB) board where they will conduct an independent review of the circumstances of Agent Vega’s death for inclusion in the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
Please join me in continuing to honor BPA Javier Vega, Jr.
Mark A. Morgan
U.S. Border Patrol