Public invited to federal agencies' meeting on Border Patrol policy tonight

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Representatives from three federal agencies will take input at a meeting tonight on a new Border Patrol policy under which agents no longer provide language assistance to local law enforcement agencies.

Open to the public, the meeting is 6 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. at the Longhouse at Peninsula College in Port Angeles.

Access is off Park Avenue on a road between the college campus and the Bonneville power substation.

Tonight's meeting will include participation by the departments of Justice and Homeland Security as well as Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol and comes under Homeland Security.

They will be present “to listen to current experiences relating to language assistance and access,” according to a Department of Justice notice to community groups.

The agency's Community Relations Service is running the meeting, spokesman Lou Ruffino said.

Notice of the meeting was sent to groups on the North Olympic Peninsula “that have raised civil rights issues,” said a representative of the civil rights division of Homeland Security.

“As a follow-up, we want to hear from the community, to hear what their perspectives are and what they are hearing from the community,” the representative said, who wasn't authorized to talk about the meeting.

“We are coming in to hear directly from local people and the Port Angeles area and the Peninsula on this issue.”

Lesley Hoare of the Forks Human Rights Group said the organization has been hoping to get the policy clarified.

“We are hoping to get more clarity on the use of Border Patrol on interpretation assistance,” she said .

“We are hoping to get people to share their reaction and how experiences around interpretation have gone.”

A federal government edict in November directed Border Patrol agents to no longer provide language assistance to law enforcement agencies, a practice that had become a point of contention between the agency and the North Olympic Peninsula's non-English-speaking Latino population, especially on the West End.

“If a federal, state or local law enforcement organization (other than another Department of Homeland Security component), requests CBP assistance based solely on a need for language translation, absent any other circumstances, the guidance directs CBP personnel to refer those requests to a list of available local and national translation services such as those provided by the Interagency Working Group on Limited English Proficiency,” Customs and Border Protection said in a statement on the change.

“Nothing in this document should be construed to limit the authorities of an officer or agent when responding to other law enforcement requests for assistance.”

Law enforcement officials in Clallam and Jefferson counties said the new policy has little or no impact on their operations and that they have other avenues for obtaining translation assistance.

The Border Patrol contingent that covers the North Olympic Peninsula and is based in a new, $11.9 million headquarters east of downtown Port Angeles.

There was a tenfold increase to 42 Port Angeles-based agents in six years by the time the new headquarters opened in December.

The increase sparked demonstrations for and against the agency, including at the headquarters' ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The Seattle-based Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed a May 1, 2012, civil rights complaint against the Department of Justice that led to the ban on Border Patrol agents providing translation assistance.



Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 04. 2013 6:42PM
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