USDA: Using Border Patrol as translators discriminatory

Using Border Patrol agents as translators was discriminatory against Hispanics stopped by National Forest agents on the Olympic Peninsula, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) civil rights office has ruled.

News of the announcement of the recent ruling was released today, Thursday, May 31, by the Seattle-based Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP).

Use of the Border Patrol in law-enforcement support in routine matters is also wrong, the ruling states.
“The USDA’S Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, known as OASCR, also ordered the Forest Service to make significant policy changes at the national level to remedy its discriminatory policies and practices,” the news release states. “In addition, the office directed that additional steps be taken at the Olympic National Forest offices in Washington State.”

The ruling was in response to a complaint filed by the NWIRP on behalf of the women who was stopped for a check in 2011 about 20 miles east of Forks along a Sol Duc River bridge with Benjamin Roldan Salinas. Salinas, an illegal immigrant salal picker forest worker who had a crop of salal in his possession, fled from Border Patrol agents who were called to the scene by Forest Service law enforcement agents. 

Salinas reportedly jumped into the Sol Duc River fleeing the scene. After weeks of searching his body was found on June 4, 2011 in a root wad located in the river downstream. 

More recently, a lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and NWIRP aimed at barring Border Patrol agents from making traffic stops on the Olympic Peninsula. The suit claims that drivers and passengers are being pulled over and then questioned without reasonable suspicion based on what they look like.

“We also believe this is the first legal ruling addressing the issue of whether the use of Border Patrol agents as interpreters violates civil rights protections and we are pleased that this federal agency has concluded unambiguously that this practice is discriminatory,” said Northwest Immigrant Rights Project Executive Director Jorge L. Barón in the press release.

In addition, the NWIRP announced that, “…an alliance of advocacy organizations affiliated with the Northern Border Coalition, including NWIRP, filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for records related to the use of Border Patrol agents as interpreters for local law enforcement agencies, a practice that has now been labeled as ‘discriminatory’ by a federal agency. A separate FOIA request seeks the release of information about Border Patrol agents’ participation in 911 dispatch activities.”  
The traffic stops and Border Patrol actions are expected to be the focus of a community meeting being held by the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs on Friday, June 1 from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. in the Forks Community Center.

Organizers of the panel has announced topics to be discussed include “issues of racial profiling and equitable practices in this area.” 

The commission announced in advance that the Border Patrol isn’t being invited to attend.

Border Patrol agents addressed the Forks City Council earlier this year offering their side of the traffic stops.

The Forks Community Meeting on Ensuring Equitable Practices will be held at the Forks Community Center, 91 Maple Ave., on Friday, from 6:00 to 8:30 p,m. Refreshments will be provided.
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