A report published last week, The Growing Human Rights Crisis Along the Northern Border, alleges that the human rights of residents in Washington communities up north are under attack. The publication is based on 109 interviews and other on-the-ground research in Snohomish, Whatcom, and Skagit counties about interactions between residents and the Border Patrol, which operates as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
According to the 52-page document, Border Patrol officers systematically engage in racial profiling. They also work routinely with local police, courts, and emergency responders in ways that create a climate of mistrust and fear, which “can imperil immigrants’ access to police protection, urgent medical attention, fire protection, and other emergency services.” The basic constitutional and international human rights of persons of Hispanic descent, with and without legal citizenship, are being jeopardized in the region, concludes the report.
To produce The Growing Human Rights Crisis, immigrant advocates at OneAmerica asked the University of Washington Center for Human Rights (CHR) for help in systematizing their procedures for collecting, documenting, and analyzing evidence of the problems they perceived in the communities they serve.
The report arrives at a time when the subjects of racial profiling and minorities’ rights have risen to the top of the American agenda again — the most recent elevation in a century and a half of fluctuating national attention. On the day the report appeared (Tuesday, April 17) the U.S. Senate judiciary subcommittee on rights and the Constitution heard testimony on racial profiling.
This week, on Wednesday the 25th, the Supreme Court will hear a challenge by a group of former state Attorneys General to Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which requires all non-citizens in the USA for more than 30 days to carry official documents when within Arizona's borders. Further, all law enforcement officers in that state must determine the immigration status of every person they stop, in cases where they suspect the individual might be in the country illegally.
Of course advocates' biases shape the stories they collect from the populations they work with, and a policy-bound federal agency charged with protecting national security will have its own biases. The Growing Human Rights Crisis has the rhetoric and tone of an advocacy piece. But if the report’s allegations are true or even just mostly true, they add up to a world you wouldn’t want to live in, even as a legal citizen — a world where all are treated like criminals because a few broke the law.
If you were a person of Hispanic descent living in northern Washington, where the economy depends heavily on migrant labor, you’d regularly be flagged down by Border Patrol agents who noticed that your vehicle’s muffler is noisy or a taillight is out, according to the report. If you spoke Spanish near a CBP officer, he or she would try to engage you in “casual” conversation invariably leading to questions about where you were born. You could be stopped at a ferry terminal in the middle of a family emergency, as the report says happened to one Latino woman carrying her immigration papers who was rushing an injured family member onto the Anacortes ferry enroute to a doctor. One young man in a family of unauthorized immigrants was forced to choose whether he or his mother would be detained along with his father, alleges the report, and the two men were deported.
We don’t know the reasoning of the officer in the last anecdote. He could conceivably have been exercising discretion to allow at least one member of a non-threatening family the option of continuing to work in the U.S. For as the report makes clear, CBP officers may cut corners for immigrants lacking authorization who pose no threat to national security — generally, for example, for those with a close relative in the U.S. military. But the officer had to take action of some kind. John Bates, CBP’s chief patrol officer in the Blaine sector, has said that if Border Patrol officers suspect someone is in the country illegally, “they do not have the discretion to walk away,” according to the report.
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