Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Today, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) and the ACLU of Washington announced a settlement agreement in a lawsuit that challenged the Border Patrol’s practice of stopping vehicles and interrogating occupants in the Olympic Peninsula. As a result of the settlement, the U.S. Border Patrol has acknowledged that its agents on the Olympic Peninsula must base vehicle stops away from the border on reasonable suspicion that an individual may be involved in violating the law.
The ACLU-WA and NWIRP filed the suit (Sanchez v. US Border Patrol) in U.S. District Court in Seattle in 2012 on behalf of three residents of the Olympic Peninsula. Under the terms of the settlement, all Border Patrol agents assigned to the Port Angeles Station will be required to receive an additional training in Fourth Amendment protections, including those related to vehicle stops. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. In addition, for 18 months, the Border Patrol will be required to provide reports to plaintiffs’ attorneys documenting all stops in the Olympic Peninsula. Finally, the Border Patrol agreed that it will comply with judicial decisions setting limits on stops and interrogations, and will abide by the Department of Homeland Security guidance, for the use of race or ethnicity in performing its duties.
The three plaintiffs represented in this case experienced unwarranted stops and interrogations in a variety of settings, all while going about their daily lives. Some stops appeared to be based on nothing but the plaintiffs’ perceived ethnicity or skin color. Agents provided flimsy pretexts or no reason at all for the stops. The lawsuit asserted that the Border Patrol’s suspicionless stops violated the Fourth Amendment and exceeded the agency’s legal powers.
Here are case summaries from the three plaintiffs:
• José Sanchez is a resident of Forks and correctional officer for the Olympic Corrections Center. In 2011, Border Patrol agents stopped his vehicle, saying its windows were too dark – even though the driver’s side window was not tinted. The agents questioned Sanchez – a U.S. citizen – about where he was from. In an earlier incident, Sanchez and a family member were traveling in a vehicle near Forks when Border Patrol agents stopped the car and interrogated Sanchez about his immigration status. Though agents told him that his vehicle was stopped because its windows were too dark, the agents did not ask for his insurance or registration. When he provided those documents, the agents refused to inspect them. In yet another incident in Forks, Sanchez was traveling home in a vehicle and was followed by Border Patrol agents. The agents approached him when he arrived at his house. Sanchez began recording the encounter with his cell phone and the agents backed away. When Sanchez called the Border Patrol office to complain about being repeatedly stopped and interrogated, the office supervisor told him simply, “We have certain cars that we need to pull over.”
• Ismael Ramos Contreras is a 2012 graduate of Forks High School, where he was student body president. In 2011, he was traveling in a vehicle with several teenage friends to pick up tuxedos for a Quinceañera (15th birthday) celebration when the vehicle was stopped by four Border Patrol agents in Port Angeles. One agent tried to take the key out of the ignition, so the driver handed him the key. Agents interrogated the boys about their immigration status, but never provided a reason for the stop. In 2010, Ramos Contreras was approached by a person who addressed him by name and began questioning him about where he lived and came from as he and his mother exited the Clallam County Courthouse in Forks. His mother identified the person as a Border Patrol agent; the person indeed turned out to be an agent who was in plain clothes and wearing their badge backwards.
• Ernest Grimes is a correctional officer, and a part-time police officer who lives in Neah Bay. In 2011 near Clallam Bay, a Border Patrol agent stopped the vehicle in which Grimes was traveling, approached with his hand on his weapon, and yelled at Grimes to roll down his window. Without offering a reason for the stop, the agent interrogated Grimes about his immigration status. Grimes, who is African American, was wearing his correctional officer uniform at the time.
Representing the plaintiffs are NWIRP legal director Matt Adams, ACLU-WA legal director Sarah Dunne and staff attorney La Rond Baker, and cooperating attorneys Nicholas Gellert, Brendan Peters, Javier Garcia, and Steve Merriman of the firm Perkins Coie LLP.