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    Racial profiling on Washington’s northern border?

    The UW Center for Human Rights and immigrant community advocates at OneAmerica charge that Latino groups live in a climate of fear produced by racial profiling and other Border Patrol practices.

    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.

    Racial profiling is the most complicated issue the authors raise. Border Patrol officers are forbidden to act on perceptions of a person’s race or religion, wrote Jeffrey D. Jones, supervisory border patrol agent for the Blaine Sector of CBP, in response to an email request for information about officer training. “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’” (issued in 2003).

    However, according to this guidance, among the "specific facts" that officers such as Jones may use is a person's country of origin. This exception makes it impossible to determine whether the 63 instances of what the report calls racial profiling can be classified as illegal behavior.

    The authors want racial profiling eliminated entirely by ensuring that all agencies, including those responsible for border security, are equally governed by a more sweeping definition. They urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), which would close loopholes in DOJ guidance by specifying that people cannot be stopped or questioned on the basis of their race, ethnicity, religion, or country of origin. (ERPA pros and cons can be found, respectively, in a letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder by 66 members of Congress after the Senate subcommittee hearing and in the testimony of Roger Clegg.)

    Holding all agencies to an equal standard makes sense, says the report, when Border Patrol attention to country of origin can’t be shown to have strengthened national security against terrorist attacks since 9/11. “[O]f 43 prosecutions for terrorism in Washington State since 2001, zero have been referred to the courts by the Border Patrol.”The authors conclude that “the agency’s overzealous enforcement activities and ballooning [size] are not only dangerous, but unnecessary.”

    (Studies have shown that profiling based on race or ethnicity is a poor crime-fighting strategy. According to research cited in the Senate hearing testimony of David Harris, professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, officers in law enforcement need to be trained to interpret behavior, which gives valuable clues about whether someone has engaged in or intends to engage in a criminal act. Part of learning to focus on behavior is scrupulously ignoring a person’s racial or ethnic appearance.)

    The report also urges that the order of priorities adopted by border officials in pursuing unauthorized immigrants who are not terrorist suspects be strictly followed. Highest in priority (1) are those who have committed aggravated felonies, or “serious criminal aliens.” Next (2) come those who have committed other felonies and (3) those convicted of misdemeanors, followed by (4) those whose only crime is illegally entering or remaining in the U.S.  

    The report accuses officials of mainly targeting individuals of low-level priority. As evidence, the authors cite the fact that only 25 percent were deported last year for aggravated felonies. But by not telling readers what all four priority categories are, they free themselves to generalize loosely that the remaining 75 percent of those lawbreakers were deported on grounds that “can include many low-level misdemeanors (e.g. shoplifting or minor traffic offenses).”

    This is not an untrue statement, but the total "can include" many felons in priority level 2, as well. Further, the authors complain that almost half of the deportees last year were in the lowest priority level — number 4 — as if officials holding four priorities should act only on the highest one or two. In sum, data in the report don’t substantiate a claim that immigration officials subvert their own priorities in order to focus on lowest-level offenders.

    Finally, the report faults CBP for blurring boundaries between its federal operations and local and state law enforcement. When encountering Latino residents who can’t speak English, the Border Patrol offers translation services to the police (all CBP field personnel know Spanish). But then Patrol officers take advantage of these opportunities to investigate the status of persons present who might be unauthorized immigrants, charges the report. Border Patrol officers also provide backup in community emergencies, sometimes handling 9-1-1 calls and showing up with (or even before) local first responders. But as the emergency is addressed, the report says, Patrol officers look for individuals whose status they might want to question. CBP officers also linger outside courthouses on days when Spanish interpretation services are offered, waylaying Latino residents who might come to pay a parking ticket, says the report.

    Weaving Border Patrol responsibilities into local ones, especially when combined with what the report claims is racial profiling and what it says is a pattern of threatening or personally disrespectful behavior on the part of CBP officers in general, provokes community-wide fear in Latino neighborhoods, say the authors. They urge that an investigation from above be launched and that CBP officer training and operations be changed.

    Stepping back from the report as a whole, one could reasonably ask whether border enforcement practices as described really threaten human rights, even though serious problems are clearly evident. Is it a threat to the rights of people who commit crimes if they and people who care about them are afraid to call the police, contact first responders, or visit a courthouse as a result? It’s painful and unfair if innocent members of a community where some lawbreakers live or work hesitate to seek the help they need. But many people interviewed for the report are living like other U.S. citizens who have broken the law and are trying to avoid detection: they and their families and friends tremble at the prospect of running into a uniformed authority figure.

    The somewhat dramatic claim that human rights are being violated, or are on the verge of violation, seems prompted by a wish that unauthorized immigrants be treated as if they hadn’t broken any law at all, or at least treated as if their offense was so minor it should be overlooked. But CBP could legitimately do so only if the nation agreed to offer amnesty.

    That said, OneAmerica’s work does highlight serious problems whose solutions don’t require a nationwide debate. OneAmerica policy director Ada Williams Prince said in an interview that CBP should bar routine forms of collaboration between their officers and local police. Mixing federal with local operations in this way not only intensifies anxiety among residents who need help from local first responders; it also reduces the effectiveness of local law enforcement. “Any police officer will tell you that the only way they can do their jobs is with the trust of the community,” Prince said. “How do you police an area without that?”

    And the report successfully fulfills its general purpose, which, said the director of the UW Center for Human Rights, Professor Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, “is to bring policy concerns to the public.” Enforcement of present immigration laws “requires urgent attention on many fronts,” Godoy said. “We can work incrementally and make sure rights are addressed within the existing system, even if it’s flawed.”

    The report makes its best case indirectly, by implication: the case for thoroughgoing reform of the nation’s immigration laws. Economic migrants illegally in the U.S. who tell their stories in The Growing Human Rights Crisis didn’t come here to terrorize Americans or commit crimes on American soil. They came to do the kinds of essential jobs that few of us are willing to do, for wages that keep prices so low we don't have to pay as much for some things as we should. It’s unhealthy for Americans to keep benefiting in these ways from the heavy labors of a population that lacks the legal standing necessary to do robust bargaining in its own behalf.

    Furthermore, even if illegal border crossings stopped dead today and no newcomers swelled the present total of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. (currently estimated to be 10-11 million people, and declining — because of the recession, some say), we have resources enough to deport only 400,000 per year. With immigration court backlogs now amounting to tens of thousands of cases, deportations at this rate would take a quarter-century or more to reduce present numbers anywhere close to zero. The problem is not going away, at least not soon.

    Only comprehensive immigration reform will ensure that millions of peaceful, hard-working people and their neighbors aren’t doomed to lead painfully restricted, frightened lives. And that's a reality that reading The Growing Human Rights Crisis can help us understand.

    As part of Crosscut’s coverage of social concerns, Judy Lightfoot writes about how the region's people face challenges in a time of economic stress and diminished expectations. She often draws on her weekly one-on-one coffees with individuals sharing our public spaces who are socially isolated by homelessness or mental illness. Formerly a teacher and professor, she also writes about books, education, and the arts. Email judy.lightfoot@crosscut.com.

    Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!


    Posted Tue, Apr 24, 7:28 a.m. Inappropriate

    OneAmerica and the UW Human Rights Center's report is excellent. Heavy-handed action by federal law enforcement authorities is inappropriate. Local law enforcement shouldn't be calling upon them for "translation" purposes. When a person calls 911 for help, they should be given help, not harm. Hard-working immigrants, on whom Washington State's agricultural economy depends, should be treated decently.


    Posted Tue, Apr 24, 7:43 a.m. Inappropriate

    There are an estimated 230,000 illegal aliens in Washington State, the vast majority are Hispanic. Is it profiling or common sense to question people who do not speak engish, do not have identification, proof of citizenship and appear to be Hispanic in a border region?


    Posted Tue, Apr 24, 11:01 a.m. Inappropriate

    Obama is violating the human rights of illegals? Interesting.

    What a lie..."racial profiling and minorities’ rights have risen to the top of the American agenda again..." Jobs for legal residents are far above illegal alien rights in the national discussion.

    Posted Tue, Apr 24, 11:28 a.m. Inappropriate

    (4) those whose only crime is illegally entering or remaining in the U.S.

    That's all it takes to justify deportation as far as I'm concerned.

    Cameron - "Is it profiling or common sense to question people who do not speak English, do not have identification, proof of citizenship and appear to be Hispanic in a border region?"

    Common sense of course......and I AM Hispanic.

    If I were in Mexico illegally......or any other country for that matter.....I'd be arrested and deported.

    Some combination of the current economy and increased enforcement has resulted in a net migration OUT of the USA and back to Mexico. Waiting to see the great calamity that will befall the USA from a dearth of illegal residents.

    May have to wait a while.......

    Posted Tue, Apr 24, 11:45 a.m. Inappropriate

    Powerful report and great coverage that digs deep into the findings. Our state-by-state patchwork of immigration laws and the growing collaboration between local police and Border Patrol are taking us further from a country that respects civil liberties and is willing to create a federal solution to our broken system.

    @cameron - to answer your question, it's profiling. And it's wrong. And, as reported here, many representatives in law enforcement agree that it doesn't work very well. By your argument, it's OK to question people not b/c of their behavior, but b/c they look Hispanic. What a horrible idea. But it sounds like, according to this report, Border Patrol is already doing that. And it's not making our country any safer (no terrorism suspects located as a result), it's just insulting our Constitution.

    Posted Tue, Apr 24, 5:30 p.m. Inappropriate


    Human rights are human rights, undocumented immigrant or not. They're still humans.

    When have you been a field hand or picked crops, would you last one day as a laborer?

    Crops were rotting in the fields last season because there were not enough hands to pick them. That is a crime.


    Posted Tue, Apr 24, 5:30 p.m. Inappropriate


    Human rights are human rights, undocumented immigrant or not. They're still humans.

    When have you been a field hand or picked crops, would you last one day as a laborer?

    Crops were rotting in the fields last season because there were not enough hands to pick them. That is a crime.


    Posted Wed, Apr 25, 6:26 a.m. Inappropriate

    It's funny seakat, I worked on farms as a young person milking cows,haying, worked the orchards and I worked side by side with a whole bunch of people who were US Citizens and Legal Immigrants. The ability to do hard physical labor has nothing to do with your race or ethnicity.

    While all human beings deserve to be treated in a humane fashion, the United States has a right to function as a soveriegn nation. Rules and laws governing who can enter, how long they can stay, how they become citizens and if they can work while they are here.


    Posted Wed, Apr 25, 6:36 a.m. Inappropriate

    Brucerodney, I specifically said they do not speak English, they have no identification, located in a border region and they are Hispanic, a group that represents the vast majority of illegal aliens. If that's profiling and it's wrong then why do we have a Border Patrol? What exactly is their function? In Washington State we don't allow our law enforcement to question contacted individuals about their immigration status, or to actively cooperate with immigration control efforts of the Federal Government. A policy that has resulted in significant growth in the illegal alien population in the State.


    Posted Thu, Apr 26, 10:27 a.m. Inappropriate

    @cameron - you're correct that ability to do hard labor has nothing to do with race. but seakat is right to point out that very few (or zero, as farmers in Alabama have discovered) native born workers want to do this work any longer. our economy currently relies on migrant labor. period. instead of scapegoating immigrant workers, let's figure out a better way.

    Border Patrol's function, especially in the dramatic build up after the 9/11 attacks, was to keep out terrorists, no? That was the pretense behind a 600%+ increase in funding. Or was it to deport fathers (at least, after the growing season is over)? Questioning people w/ an accent is profiling (and it's what Border Patrol has admitted doing). Questioning the people you describe isn't good policing, it's racial profiling. And maybe your wouldn't be surprised that brown skinned citizens and legal residents are tired of being harassed.

    Posted Thu, Apr 26, 3:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    CommonSense isn't profiling,if they don't speak english (not an accent as you misstated), they have no identification and they are in the border area, they should be detained. If you want it even across the board, lets go for the biometrically secure National Identification System. It would cut down on ID theft, eliminate the illegal aliens ability to function in our society and face immediate deportation. It would also provide proof positive for voting purposes and receiving government services.


    Posted Thu, Apr 26, 6:50 p.m. Inappropriate

    Some of the biggest thugs in the business of industrial policing and the culture of little men with big guns, those BP guys. I spent years as a newspaper reporter and college educator along the 2,000 mile "tortilla curtain," La Frontera, the US-Mexico border. These fellows are unprofessional, sadists, and corrupt. I've had students of all stripes in my college classes, and the ones wanting to be BP agents, well, hands down, think Bruce Willis and Ted Nugent on steroids.

    Punks. They need a complete house cleaning. Get real, Washington State. You want all those undocumented ones to disappear with magic wand? Say goodbye to tax base, hard and good labor and more expensive food, wine and stuff ya get at Cosco and Wally World.

    Listen, watch, think --


    more . . . . ??


    The report, “A Culture of Cruelty,” was released Wednesday as a culture of crime is being exposed, including the ATF’s Project Gunrunner, which put assault weapons in the hands of drug cartels. This week, the El Paso Times revealed FBI whistleblowers exposing US law enforcement working with drug cartels along the border in El Paso and New Mexico. Further, the US Border Patrol has revealed that Border Patrol agents have been arrested for crimes involving corruption, which includes taking bribes and giving information to criminals. At the same time, private prisons continue profiteering from the xenophobia of migrants and people of color at the US/Mexico border.

    Although Border Patrol agents are being charged with crimes of corruption, agents continue to abuse migrants with impunity.

    Testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery and Intergovernmental Affairs in 2011, Alan Bersin, commissioner of the Customs and Border Patrol, said: “Since 2004 in October, 127 CBP personnel have been arrested, charged or convicted of corruption. Of the 127 arrests, 95 are considered mission compromising acts of corruption. This means that the employee’s illegal activities were for personal gain and violated, or facilitated the violation of, the laws CBP personnel are charged with enforcing.”

    Customs and Border Patrol is a component of the Department of Homeland Security. CBP employs about 60,000 people, 40,000 of which work at the U.S. borders.


    Posted Thu, Apr 26, 7:04 p.m. Inappropriate

    Another great piece, and anything by Charles Bowden --


    Educate yourselves, Washingtonians --


    Charles Bowden on The War Next Door
    Adam Smith's invisible hand meets magical realism on the border


    Feeding that privatized prison system - this country's entire broken gulag loving policing state:


    Private Prison Corporations Are Slave Traders

    A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

    “The Corrections Corporation of America believes the economic crisis has created an historic opportunity to become the landlord, as well as the manager, of a big chunk of the American prison gulag.”

    The nation’s largest private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America, is on a buying spree. With a war chest of $250 million, the corporation, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, this month sent letters to 48 states, offering to buy their prisons outright. To ensure their profitability, the corporation insists that it be guaranteed that the prisons be kept at least 90 percent full. Plus, the corporate jailers demand a 20-year management contract, on top of the profits they expect to extract by spending less money per prisoner


    Posted Thu, Apr 26, 10:21 p.m. Inappropriate

    Hey, someone tell the Jews and El Al airlines that profiling is bad and doesn't work. Oh, right, it does work.


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