With all the focus on the Department of Justice report slamming Seattle police, there hasn't been a lot of attention, locally, on the second DOJ report issued last week. There should be. That one, eviscerating an Arizona county's sheriff's department, could just as well be applied to parts of Washington state.
Last week's report on Arizona's Maricopa County found that sheriff's deputies, empowered by a local immigration law, have been engaging in rampant racial profiling. This "unconstitutional policing," as the report called it, had deputies routinely stopping Latino drivers and otherwise targeting people who had dark skin or were speaking Spanish.
Sound familiar? That's exactly what residents in Forks, and elsewhere in the upper reaches of our state and other northern border locales, say has been happening for several years. The only difference is that it's been Border Patrol agents carrying on this way rather than local law enforcement.
In recent months, as we reported last week, the agency has also been detaining even legal residents who have illegal immigrants in their car, according to a Forks human rights group.
"I think the patterns we see are equally problematic," says Jorge Baron, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
The DOJ, however, isn't likely to step in because it would be seen as stepping on toes, according to Baron. "Each federal agency has its own watchdog group," he says. The Border Patrol's is the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
Baron says he has filed several complaints with that office about specific incidents. One involves an American-born U.S. citizen who was stopped by the Border Patrol last December outside the courthouse in Forks, where he had gone to resolve a traffic citation. The agent told the citizen he had seen the person's name on a court docket, according to Baron. Court dockets don't have information about a person's immigration status, so the agent must have been going by the person's Hispanic-sounding name, Baron contends.
The Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is investigating that complaint. But Baron says the office has told him that it is understaffed and underfunded.
DOJ: Are you listening? Your services are needed.