Border Patrol settles with civil rights groups

Published on Wed, Oct 2, 2013
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A lawsuit claiming that the U.S. Border Patrol violated Fourth Amendment rights during traffic stops has ended in a settlement agreement and, as part of that settlement, the U.S. Border Patrol will be required to report every traffic stop it makes on the Olympic Peninsula for the next 18 months to immigrant advocacy groups.

Three legal residents of the Olympic Peninsula (two Hispanic and one African American) filed suit in April 2012 alleging that the Border Patrol were stopping vehicles and interrogating occupants without legal justification, and using racial profiling to determine who they would pull over. 

Filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, the plaintiffs argued that the Border Patrol’s suspicion-less stops violated the constitution, and sought a court injunction barring such unlawful stops in the future. The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington represented the residents.

As part of the settlement, the agency has also agreed to retrain its Port Angeles agents on the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and requires warrants. The retraining will be coordinated and conducted by the Border Patrol, and will also address when Border Patrol agents should contact state law enforcement for vehicle-related public safety concerns.

In addition to this, the chief of the Blaine sector (which oversees the Olympic Peninsula) will write a letter reaffirming that agents must adhere to the protections provided by the Fourth Amendment when they are on patrol.

Doug Honig, a representative for the ACLU, says the agreement “sends a strong message” to northern Border Patrol sectors. “They can’t stop people without good reason or simply because they are speaking Spanish or appear to be Hispanic,” he said. 

The Border Patrol admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement.

While the cases in the lawsuit were limited to stops made on the Olympic Peninsula, the settlement has far-reaching implications for the Border Patrol. 

“This agreement confirms that Border Patrol can’t pull over a vehicle because of the driver’s race or ethnicity or simply because the person lives in proximity to the border. We hope that the reporting requirements and the additional training will ultimately provide greater accountability, and restore a measure of dignity for folks who live in this region,” said Matt Adams, legal director of NWIRP.