SEATTLE (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Thursday against the U.S. Border Patrol seeking to bar agents from making traffic stops, saying people are being pulled over and questioned for the way they look and without reasonable suspicion.
The lawsuit stems from tensions between immigrants and the expanded presence of Border Patrol agents on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula, which shares no land border with Canada.
“People are being stopped based solely on their appearance and ethnicity. This is unlawful and contrary to American values,” said Matt Adams, legal director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which also joined the lawsuit. “No one in a car should be stopped and interrogated by government agents unless the law enforcement officer has a legal basis to do so.”
The ACLU and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed the lawsuit on behalf of three peninsula residents who have been stopped by Border Patrol agents.
Border Patrol spokesman Richard Sinks said U.S. 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,’” Sinks said.
The agency has said it is following its mandate to enforce the country’s immigration laws and protect the border and shoreline from terrorists, drug smugglers and other illegal activity.
But one of the plaintiffs says Border Patrol agents stopped him numerous times, even though he’s a U.S. citizen.
Jose Sanchez, a prison guard at Olympic Corrections Center in Forks, Wash., said agents have followed him home and questioned him when he’s with his family. In one instance, they told Sanchez they were pulling him over because his windows were too dark, but they didn’t ask for his car insurance or registration, the lawsuit says.
Another plaintiff is Ernest Grimes, a prison guard at Clallam Bay Corrections Center and a part-time police officer from Neah Bay, Wash. Grimes said a Border Patrol agent pulled him over last year. According to the lawsuit, the agent approached Grimes, who is black, with his hand on his weapon while yelling at him to roll down his window.
The agent provided no reason for the traffic stop while he interrogated Grimes about his immigration status, the lawsuit alleges. Grimes was wearing his guard uniform at the time.
The third plaintiff, 18-year-old Ismael Ramos Contreras of Forks, was with a group of friends when four agents pulled them over. The lawsuit says one of the agents tried to take the keys out of the ignition and interrogated the teenagers but never provided a reason for the stop. Ramos also was asked for his immigration status outside a courthouse in Forks.
“The Border Patrol’s actions have created a climate of fear and anxiety for many people living on the Olympic Peninsula. The residents in this suit all are U.S. citizens who worry that they could be stopped and questioned without reason any time they drive or are passengers in cars,” said Sarah Dunne, the ACLU’s legal director.
The lawsuit says traffic stops by Border Patrol agents violate the Fourth Amendment and exceed the agency’s legal powers. It seeks to bar such stops until agents are trained on what constitutes reasonable suspicion.
Border Patrol agents “have implemented a practice of stopping vehicles or participating in vehicle stops based on a hunch or intuition, including stops based solely on the ethnic and/or racial appearance of the occupants of the vehicle, and thus without sufficient suspicion on which to base the stop,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit says the Border Patrol’s behavior in Washington state is similar to that of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona, which the Department of Justice recently condemned.
One of the chief arguments in the lawsuit is that similar behavior in the 1980s by immigration and Border Patrol agents in the Yakima Valley was deemed illegal by a federal court in eastern Washington, which issued a statewide injunction.
“It worked for a while,” Adams said. “Our suit is trying to create more accountability.”
The suit also asks the court to require that agents file paperwork justifying each traffic stop and make it readily available to a court-appointed special master. The lawsuit is seeking a class-action status.
ACLU of Washington spokesman Doug Honig said the lawsuit is focused on Border Patrol activities on the Olympic Peninsula, but “a favorable ruling presumably would cause the Border Patrol to re-examine its practices across the northern border.”
After the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush ordered U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, to beef up its presence on the U.S.-Canada border, which is almost twice as long as the U.S.-Mexico border.
In 2007, the northern border had nearly 1,100 agents. Now it has more than 2,200. In the same period, the number of agents in the Blaine sector, which covers the border area west of the Cascades, went from 133 to 331.
Over the years, Border Patrol enforcement practices common on the southern border, such as highway checkpoints, have been implemented along the northern border, miffing residents on the Olympic Peninsula, the area’s congressman and an U.S. Senator and local authorities. Agents cut back on road and ferry checkpoints after objections mounted.
Tensions rose last year after a forest worker drowned following a foot chase with a Border Patrol agent. The Mexican national jumped into a frigid river to elude the agent. His body was found entangled in roots three weeks later.
The Olympic Peninsula is home to rural towns around the edge of the 1,441-square-mile Olympic National Park. Many immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala have moved there to work in the forests picking salal, an ornamental leaf.
The peninsula sits across from Canada’s Victoria Island, separated by the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Manuel Valdes can be reached at https://twitter.com/ByManuelValdes
More Related Stories
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- UK Military: London attack victim was a "model soldier"
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- 2 more arrested in London attacks
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Ahead of Obama's speech, U.S. acknowledges four American drone killings
- Must-see morning clip: Bill O'Reilly visits "The Daily Show"
- Lawsuit alleges anti-gay hiring practices at ExxonMobil
- Boy Scouts poised to vote, still greatly divided on gay youth
- House supporters of KXL received $56m from fossil fuel industry
- 80-year-old becomes oldest to climb Mount Everest
- Before FBI shooting man implicated self, Tsarnaev in triple murder
- Paul McCartney backs Pussy Riot
- UK emergency committee convenes after attack
- Brave scout leader tried to reason with London attackers
- If Alex Pareene were a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11