SEATTLE (AP) – U.S. Border Patrol agents will no longer serve as interpreters when local law enforcement agencies request language help, according to a new decree issued by the Department of Homeland Security.
The new guidance said agents should refer such requests to private services often used by government agencies.
Seeking language help is a common practice among local law enforcement agencies in Washington state. If a person is pulled over and can only speak Spanish, the U.S. Border Patrol is often called.
However, immigration advocates complain that Border Patrol agents ask people questions about immigration and in some cases arrest people suspected of being in the country illegally.
“The concept of language access should be without people being questioned about their immigration status,” said Jorge Baron, executive director of the Seattle-based Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, a legal aid organization.
Immigrants have grown apprehensive about calling local law enforcement agencies if they knew the Border Patrol is going to respond, he said.
The new Border Patrol guidance should help, even though it leaves agents some room for decision-making, he said.
The Border Patrol said Thursday it is trying to use its resources efficiently.
“The new guidance related to requests for translation services helps further focus CBP efforts on its primary mission to secure our nation’s borders.” a statement by Customs and Border Protection said. “CBP remains committed to assisting our law enforcement partners in their enforcement efforts.”
The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project sent a letter in May to the Department of Justice and Homeland Security saying the interpreting practice violated the Civil Rights Act.
The letter included dashboard camera video in which a Border Patrol agent is heard using a derogatory term for illegal immigrants.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush ordered U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, to beef up its presence on the U.S.-Canada border, which is almost twice as long as the U.S.-Mexico border.
In 2007, the northern border had about 1,100 agents. Now it has more than 2,200. In the same period, the number of agents in the Blaine sector, which covers the border west of the Cascades, went from 133 to 331.
Along with providing language services, Border Patrol agents often assist local law agencies that are short on personnel and equipment. In addition, highway checkpoints have been implemented. On the southern U.S. border, the ability to speak Spanish is prevalent among local law enforcement agencies.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed a lawsuit earlier this year seeking to bar Border Patrol agents from doing traffic stops on the Olympic Peninsula, claiming people were being pulled over and questioned over the way they look and without reasonable suspicion. The lawsuit is pending.
The Border Patrol has denied any discrimination.
Representatives of the National Border Patrol Council did not immediately return a message Thursday seeking comment. It previously argued that federal officials are buckling to political pressure from advocacy groups.
In May, union vice president Shawn Moran said traffic stops are a basic tool for agents trying to catch terrorists, illegal immigrants and drug smugglers.
Manuel Valdes can be reached at
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- Workers comp: Signs your co-worker could be a fraud
- Who's the real founder of America's pastime?
- Epidemic rising? What you need to know about Alzheimer's in Arizona
- 5 unforgettable Wooden Award winners
- Family and hard work are keys to success of modern dairy farmers
- Genetic testing could hold answers for colon cancer survival
- Cold beers and baseball: A beer lover's guide to Spring Training
- Telecommuting: 5 tips to make it work for employers and employees
- See how top CFOs feel about economic growth in the Valley
- Migraine myths that keep patients from effective treatments
- Here’s why Gaydos went tankless with his water heater
- Bocce ball and basketball: How you can help Arizona's Special Olympics athletes
- Tips on building the best wine room in Arizona
- Avoid the nightmare: 6 tips to choose a great contractor
- Breast cancer: Improved testing and treatments means more survivors
- Failed back surgery: New hope for patients living in pain
- Ticking time bombs: Telltale signs your water heater is about to explode
- Reading glasses could be a thing of the past
- 6 cool ways teachers are using technology in the classroom
- Emerging tech jobs in Phoenix and how to get one in 2017
- 4 top treatments athletes use for pain
- Emergency! What to do when bathrooms flood
- Arizona kids in crisis: How you can help
- New treatment offers hope for migraine sufferers
- 11 stadiums to watch your favorite football team
- Shopping for a TV? Best models for 2016
- Avoid this holiday plumbing disaster in your home
- 7 tips to avoid holiday weight gain
- New treatments mean better prostate cancer survival rates
- 5 of the scariest things found in drains