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Atmosphere of Fear: Forest Service/Border Patrol Alliance

The Olympic National Park and surrounding areas contain a plant called salal that was frequently harvested by Latinos and sold to floral arrangement companies. In May 2011, a couple was stopped by the Forest Service outside of Forks, WA and asked for their salal harvesting permits and drivers licenses. When a Border Patrol agent arrived shortly after, the couple fled. The woman was caught and arrested, and later brought a complaint to the Department of Agriculture’s civil rights office. Her partner fled and was seen entering the water before his body was found a few weeks later.

Members from the community, including salal and mushroom harvesters, served as supporting witnesses in the formal complaint and reported a general atmosphere of fear and distrust. Serious complaints to the mayor’s office have been made against the Forest Service in the past.  Because Border Patrol agents are required to speak Spanish, calls for language assistance or general backup could be made, even as a pretext, for Latino and Latino-appearing individuals stopped by the Forest Service. Despite the alleged reasoning of the Forest Service officers, the Department found that by calling Border Patrol for “assistance,” language access is not increased, safety concerns are heightened, not reduced, and there exists a general discriminatory bias towards Latinos within the Forest Service.

The decision made in response to the administrative complaint held that this practice was discriminatory on its face. In what is seen as a benchmark legal decision, the Department of Agriculture has said that the U.S. Forest Service discriminated against Latinos on the Olympic Peninsula by using Border Patrol agents as interpreters and as law-enforcement support in routine matters. The civil rights office ordered the Forest Service to make policy changes at the national level to address its discriminatory policies and practices.

For more detailed information, the complaint and decision is available here: http://nwirp.org/Documents/PressReleases/DecisionOfOASCRUSDAreCivilRightsComplaintREDACTEDforRelease.pdf

Vanessa Arno is currently a 2nd year law student at Seattle University School of Law focusing on immigration and international law; she is not yet an attorney.

Vanessa’s contributions to the The Law Office of André Olivie BLOG provide general information only and are not to be considered legal advice. If you are in need of legal advice regarding the issues discussed above or any other immigration related issue please contact Attorney, Andre Olivie at (206) 724-1940