SARITA - When motorists travel north out of the Rio Grande Valley by way of U.S. Highway 77, they will now be inspected Javier Vega Jr. Border Patrol Checkpoint.

The renaming of the checkpoint comes from legislation authored by U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) and signed into law in November 2017.

Wednesday several members of the Border Patrol, friends and family gathered for the unveiling of the newly named checkpoint.

“To everyone who put this event together, thank you,” Marie Vega, Javier's mother said at the ceremony. “

Marie admitted her son was never the type for fanfare and even joked to the organizers of the event that should something happen to them while no one is around, it was probably Javier's spirit playing a joke.

“He was down to earth and humble,” she said. “He did things because it was the right and honorable thing to do, he did things out of the kindness of his heart and never asked for anything in return.”

The Tragedy

While U.S. Border Patrol Agent Javier Vega Jr. was fishing in Raymondville with his family he was murdered by by two armed robbers.

Vega, a native of La Feria, was off duty on August 3, 2014 but the two men had suspected ties to transnational organized crime. Because he was not on duty, his death was not immediately classified as a line of duty fatality even though he was responding to a clear violation of law.

Two letters were sent by four lawmakers including Cornyn, U.S. Representatives Filemon Vela (TX-34), Michael McCaul (TX-10) and John Carter (TX-31) urging CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske to reclassify Vega's death as a line of duty fatality.

On September 21, 2016, CBP announced the decision to reclassify Vega's death as a line of duty fatality, in turn giving his family the corresponding benefits afforded by public safety officers killed in the line of duty.

“It is appropriate we honor one of their fallen,” Cornyn said at the unveiling of checkpoint. “Our law enforcement officials, their duty does not end when they go home at night, they are on the job 24/7 and it is totally appropriate we recognize Javier Vega's service and sacrifice.”

The Process For Benefits

The process on whether federal benefits are awarded to the family is controlled and approved solely by the U.S. Department of Justice and Public Safety Officer Death Benefits, not the agency that lost the officer.

When an officer dies in the line of duty a detailed report is provided by the agency that lost the officer to the U.S. Department of Justice. The report undergoes a thorough and lengthy analysis and review. Then the Department of Justice makes a decision whether circumstances meet legal requirements of line of duty death.

Regardless of how the local agency defines the death, the awarding of death benefits to the family is based solely on the report the agency provided to the DOJ. The Border Patrol provided a thorough report on Vega's death, it was reviewed by Human Resources in CBP, approved and signed by former Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske and forwarded to the DOJ.

“Although the process is lengthy I continued to check in with the death benefits office and advocated for the awarding of benefits to the agent's family,” Kerlikowske said in an email.

Still Broken

As Cornyn pointed out since Agent Vega was killed five years ago securing the border is still dangerous work. Unfortunately the political class in Washington D.C. really do not understand what the border is like or the challenges the men and women in green face on a daily basis.

Today beyond all the contraband crossing the border there is also a flood of people coming from Central America.

“I think that is one of the challenges that defines the Border Patrol today,” he said. “Unfortunately responsibility for dealing with that is not up to them, it is up to Congress, we need to pass legislation which will fix the gaps being exploited that move people into the United States.”

In 2019 alone, the Border Patrol is on track to apprehend 650,000 people.