For more than a month, Afghanistan war veteran Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi has been held in a Tijuana, Mexico prison fighting for his release after being charged with a crime he says he did not commit. Sgt. Tahmooressi says that he accidentally crossed the border on March 31st at about 10 p.m. with three personal legal U.S. firearms while on his way to meet his friends in San Ysidro, California. Tahmooressi, 25, had recently moved to the area to get treatment for his PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and was essentially homeless, living in his truck, according to his mother. He is being held in the La Mesa penitentiary on weapons charges, awaiting his May 28th court date.
“I accidentally drove into Mexico with 3 guns…a rifle (AR-15), a .45 cal pistol and a 12 gauge pump shotgun with no intensions on being in Mexico or being involved in any criminal activities,” Tahmooressi wrote in a statement of innocence to U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, “I have rights to all 3 weapons. They are under my name…Please help me.”
Hunter is among several lawmakers who have recently begun petitioning for Tahmooressi’s release. Hunter wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging his involvement. A bipartisan letter was addressed to the Mexican Attorney General on May 8th, it read in part:
“Mexico’s Attorney General is in a position to deal with Andrew’s case and ensure its quick resolution…it is necessary that the AG intervene and expedite proceedings at the very least. And so far there’s been no validation from Mexico that Andrew didn’t make a directional mistake at the border.”
“The brutality of being…unjustly in a foreign prison is worse than any experience I had with him serving two tours in Afghanistan,” his mother said, “He was willing to die for his country as a Marine. Where is his country now when he needs it the most?”
The U.S. State Department hasn’t quantified how many arrests of Americans are due to accidental crossings into Mexico, but this case is not unique. In 2012, former Marine Jon Hammer was going on a surfing trip when he was arrested while carrying an antique gun at a checkpoint at the border in Brownsville, Texas. He was held for more than 3 months despite having registered his weapon with U.S. Customs and Border Protection before his trip.
“The press coverage led to his release,” Olivia Hammar said in a phone interview, “It’s an illegitimate (court) process (in Mexico). There’s no oral arguments. You’re guilty until you’re proven innocent. Unfortunately, the only way to deal with that is…if the (U.S.) State Department is not going to do something about it, then you have to go to the public and force them to do something about it. In our case, that’s what moved things along.”
The U.S. State Department declined to comment on Tahmooressi’s case.