A Washington farm workers’ rights organization is suing the U.S. Border Patrol and various cities in the state on allegations that they discourage Latinos from seeking 911 emergency services.
The organization, Community to Community (C2C), said that the Border Patrol served as 911 dispatch, a practice that made Latinos fearful of calling for help in emergencies, according to TheNorthernLight.com.
C2C director Rosalinda Guillen told the publication that the lawsuit, sent to the Department of Justice, asks the agency to investigate the allegations.
“Latino residents of the area have repeatedly said they will not use 911 or police services because of the involvement of immigration authorities with local law enforcement,” the 15-page complaint said, according to the publication. The lawsuit added that “the threat of immigration apprehension deprives that Latino population of needed public safety services.”
The complaint also contends that several times, local police called interpreters who work for the Border Patrol even when there was no need for translation.
The group seeks an end to the practice of using the Border Patrol for 911 dispatch and for interpreter services. The cities named in the suit are Blaine, Lynden and Sumas.
“Why are these three cities using the Border Patrol for their 911 dispatch when everyone else in the county is using the What-Comm 911 dispatch?” the publication quoted Guillen as saying. “Why is there this interaction between federal government and local law enforcement?”
Blaine Police Chief Mike Haslip defended the partnership between local police and the Border Patrol.
“It’s not just a cost-saving measure,” he said, according to TheNorthernLight.com.
“The relationship has been in place since the 1960s. Part of it is geographic. Our three communities are on the very edge of the county and the other two agencies we would normally interact with – Washington State Patrol and the sheriff’s department – are constrained themselves.”
Haslip went on to say that the local police department has only seven full-time officers in a city of 5,000 people, so the Border Patrol’s resources are important.
“It’s the best use of resources and it’s done out of simple necessity to provide as much service as we can without costing the public so much that they have to give up other basic resources,” he said.