Immigrant rights group claims CBP racially profiles along northern border

Published on Wed, Apr 25, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents engage in racial profiling when dealing with Latinos along the northern border, instilling a climate of fear within immigrant communities.

This is one of the main claims Seattle-based immigrant rights group OneAmerica has made in a recently published report, compiled with help from the University of Washington Center for Human Rights. The report is the product of interviews with minorities, mostly Latinos and Arab Americans, living and working in Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties.
“It has been a process for years trying to document these peoples’ lives,” said Ada Williams Prince, the advocacy and policy director for OneAmerica.

The report tallies the results of 109 in-person interviews in the three counties. Over the course of a year, trained OneAmerica interviewers visited trailer parks, apartment complexes, migrant camps, local churches and health clinics, and spoke with both documented and undocumented members of the Latino community. Community members described incidents in which CBP personnel, specifically border patrol agents, had asked for their immigration status based solely on their perceived racial background.

Interviewers documented 135 incidents in Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties with 116 incidents, or 85 percent, happening in Whatcom County. Ten occurred in the Blaine or Birch Bay area, while 47, or 34.8 percent, happened in Lynden, the Whatcom County community with the highest number of reported incidents.

According to 2010 census figures, the Latino population has grown faster than the Caucasian population in both Blaine and Birch Bay, though Caucasians still outnumber Latinos by at least 15 to one in both communities. Birch Bay’s Latino population grew by 136 percent, from 221 in 2000 to 521 in 2010, while Blaine’s Latino population grew from 164 in 2000 to 235 10 years later, a 43 percent increase.

As detailed in the 52-page report, interviewers heard accounts of border patrol agents asking Latinos for proof of citizenship while they were at public locations, such as churches or the courthouse. According to the report, 60 percent of the 135 incidents involved interactions of this type.

Interviewers also documented 25 accounts of border patrol agents following community members to their homes from work. The border patrol agents typically drove away after these incidents, while some resulted in the agents asking for proof of citizenship.

In more than 20 cases, Latinos were reported being pulled over by local law enforcement for broken taillights, loud mufflers, or failed turn signals and were detained for immigration violations when border patrol agents arrived to interpret. About 38 percent of all incidents reported involved border patrol acting as Spanish language interpreters, according to the report.

Williams Prince said border patrol agents acting as interpreters to local police should not engage in immigrations enforcement. A busted taillight or loud muffler is not reason enough to suspect someone is in the country illegally, she said.
“It may be the law, but you still have to respect peoples’ rights,” she said.

CBP communications center personnel in the Blaine sector dispatch for the Sumas, Lynden and Blaine police departments, CBP public affairs agent Jeffrey Jones said. The Blaine sector encompasses the western half of Washington, all of Alaska and Oregon, and employs 331 border patrol agents.

CBP officials have flatly denied allegations of racial profiling. CBP spokespeople have declined to comment on the specifics of OneAmerica’s report, offering this prepared statement:

“Customs and Border Protection strictly prohibits profiling on the basis of race or religion. In determining whether individuals are admissible into the United States, CBP utilizes specific facts and follows the Department of Justice’s ‘Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies.’”

The 11-page document cited in the CBP statement forbids racial profiling, calling it “wrong and ineffective.” The document tells federal agents to only take race into account when seeking a specific suspect who is known to be of a specific racial background.

Despite the policies against profiling, Williams Prince said the incidents documented in the report show there is a problem that needs to be fixed. She said the report is documentation of a larger issue that immigrants’ rights groups like OneAmerica need to address with the input of CBP and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security.

“The report is just a snapshot of what is happening,” Williams Prince said. “We will continue to advocate and support change in policy.”

To view the OneAmerica report, click here