Port Angeles-based Border Patrol must share data, undergo constitutional refresher

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SEATTLE — U.S. Border Patrol agents based in Port Angeles will share records of every traffic stop it makes on the North Olympic Peninsula for 18 months with immigrant advocacy groups.

Also, officers will be retrained in the Fourth Amendment.

Both conditions are part of a settlement to a lawsuit that said agents were profiling the people they pulled over on the Peninsula by race.

The agreement settles a lawsuit filed last year by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project against the Border Patrol that said people were stopped and questioned for the way they looked and without reasonable suspicion.

The lawsuit was filed last April on behalf of two Latino men from Forks and an African-American man from Neah Bay, all of whom alleging that they were targeted for traffic stops by Border Patrol agents who sought to learn their immigration status.

Attorneys from the ACLU, the Seattle-based Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and Seattle law firm Perkins Coie represented the three men, all natural-born U.S. citizens.

A tentative settlement reached in June was contingent on a final decision by the Justice Department.

The lawsuit sought a class-action status, but that was dropped in lieu of the settlement.

As part of the settlement reached Tuesday, the agency agreed to retrain its Port Angeles agents, whose coverage area includes Clallam and Jefferson counties, on the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and requires warrants, federal court filings show.

The Port Angeles station had 42 agents as of March in a new facility dedicated in September 2012 that can house up to 50 staff.

The agency also will write a letter reaffirming agents must adhere to the protections provided by the amendment when they are on patrol.

The Border Patrol, though, admits no wrongdoing in the settlement.

Matt Adams, legal director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said he has high hopes for the effects of the settlement.

“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,” Adams said.

“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.”

Every six months for 18 months, the Border Patrol will provide the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project copies of the forms its agents must fill out after every traffic stop in the North Olympic Peninsula.

It’s a rare agreement in which a federal agency’s internal paperwork will be scrutinized by an outside agency without the use of the Freedom of Information Act, Adams said.

The government’s attorneys sought a settlement with the groups after a judge denied their motion to dismiss the case, Adams added.

“This settlement is confirmation that we can both ensure the safety of our borders and protect all members of our communities in a constitutional manner,” U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said in a statement.

“I appreciate the dedication and hard work of the Border Patrol, who are both the first line of defense against danger and the first to welcome millions of our visitors

The lawsuit stems from tensions between immigrants and the expanded presence of Border Patrol agents on Clallam County’s West End.

It lists the plaintiffs as Ismael Ramos Contreras, an 18-year-old former Forks High School senior; Ernest Grimes, a Neah Bay resident who works as a corrections officer at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center and a part-time Neah Bay police officer; and Jose Sanchez, a Forks resident and corrections officer for Olympic Corrections Center.

Ramos Contreras was with a group of friends when four agents pulled them over. The lawsuit said 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.

He said that in a separate incident, an agent asked for his immigration status outside of court in Forks.

“At first I thought it was funny,” he said. “But once it happened twice, I thought this is serious. This is not OK. I don’t want to keep getting stopped or questioned about my nationality or citizenship.”

Grimes, while wearing his corrections officer uniform, was stopped in his car by a Border Patrol agent in October 2011 near Clallam Bay and asked about his immigration status, according to the lawsuit.

Grimes said he never was told why he was stopped.

Sanchez was stopped in his car by Border Patrol agents in summer 2009 and fall 2011, the lawsuit said, and was asked both times about his immigration status.

Last modified: September 24. 2013 5:47PM
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