Seattle – In a precedent-setting decision released publicly today, the Department of Agriculture’s civil rights office said that the U.S. Forest Service discriminated against Latinos on the Olympic Peninsula by using Border Patrol agents as interpreters and as law-enforcement support in routine matters.
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. In addition, the office directed that additional steps be taken at the Olympic National Forest offices in Washington State.
The decision by the federal agency came in response to a complaint filed by Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) on behalf of one of its clients, whose name is not being released publicly to protect her privacy. The complaint stemmed from an incident in May 2011 in which a U.S. Forest Service officer called Border Patrol during a routine stop in the Olympic Peninsula. The incident led to the death of the partner of the complainant in the case.
“The decision in this tragic case vindicates the complaints made not only by our client but also by many community members in the Olympic Peninsula about the discriminatory practices of the U.S. Forest Service,” said Jorge L. Barón, Executive Director of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
“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,” Barón added.
The decision in this case comes less than a month after NWIRP filed a separate complaintwith the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security regarding the use of Border Patrol agents for interpretation assistance by other law enforcement agencies throughout Washington State. That complaint remains pending.
In a related development earlier today, 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 alliance of organizations that submitted these FOIA requests includes the American Immigration Council, the Alliance for Immigrants & Reform Michigan, Migrant Justice, the New York Immigration Coalition, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, and OneAmerica. The requesters are represented by the American Immigration Council’s Legal Action Center.