Thursday, March 25, 2010

Midwest Border Patrol and Local Law Enforcement Alliances

Along the nation’s southwestern geographic border the racial profiling of Chicanas/os and Latinas/os has historically ensured their high-level scrutiny in the nation’s quest for the “undocumented.” Accordingly in the Southwest whether heading for a soccer game or the gas station to fill your vehicle tank or on a run to local establishments or perhaps returning to your agricultural labor camp without attracting the attention of border patrol or local enforcement officials is not an uncommon occurrence.

In the Midwest less attention is placed on the relationship between Border Patrol agents and local law enforcement officers and the racially profiling of “Hispanic” appearing individuals. This alliance has local law enforcement officers presently operating outside their scope of jurisdiction and expediting extra-legal tactics in restraining and interrogating individuals of Mexican descent and other Latina/o groups. While they are employing methods that obligate our legal attention a recently filed class action complaint in the Midwest could also signal how southern and northern border patrol tactics are to be employed without running contrary to federal constitutional law.

As alleged in the class action complaint, Muñiz et al., v. Gallegos et al.,[1] Plaintiffs’ comprised of individuals, the Ohio Immigrant Worker Project and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO are charging the Detroit Border Patrol Sector and a host of Ohio law enforcement agencies with “restraining, interrogating and arresting individuals of “Hispanic” appearance “without reasonable suspicion or probable cause that they are aliens without a right to be or to remain in the United States.” Equally disturbing is that the complaint also alleges the Border Patrol held “seminars, trainings, or otherwise communicated with numerous local law enforcement agencies” that included “encouraging the local law enforcement agencies to target Hispanics for restraint and interrogation about their immigration status.” Accordingly not even driving your children to school without being followed, restrained and interrogated on your “immigration status” is off limits of local law enforcement officials.

Outside the immediacy of Plaintiffs’ complaint and allegations the case should also prove of interest for yet additionally related issues. First, in expediting immigration law, the nation purports to seek consistency in its direction and approach. Against this backdrop the extra-legal activities of law enforcement officers thereby raise questions as to the type of training they receive from border patrol agents or the legal training of the border patrol agents themselves. Further questions emerge as to how local officers who might lack the specific and precise legal training immigration law obligates can reconcile their particular approaches in targeting “Hispanics” with fourth amendment law. Equally disconcerting is that several of the plaintiffs are farm workers and not an unknown population group in the state whether as residents or migrant workers.

Specifically Ohio retains a huge agricultural history of employing innumerable farmworkers of Mexican descent born and raised in the state. Its own agricultural history includes workers from both inside the state and from Texas migrants who arrive to cultivate and harvest the state’s tomatoes and other commodities whether they are citizens, in status, or lawful permanent residents as well as immigrants. For those law enforcement officers that enjoy eating and yet stop agricultural workers on their way to their places of employment –that commonly others refuse to do –a reminder is necessary.

Specifically, farmworkers are critical to feeding the nation and in expediting domestic and international agricultural markets. I’m thereby wondering whether the Detroit Border Patrol agents are “training” local law enforcement officers on the intricacies of agricultural labor markets in ensuring commodities are cultivated and harvested. Questions also surface as to whether border patrol agents are training local law enforcement officers in federal law that attempts to ensure that farmworkers are not mistreated in their places of employment or in the labor camps in where they reside.

The instant case raises perplexities however beyond the intent and alleged purposes of Midwest Border Patrol efforts in the Ohio region. Perhaps a financial accounting from the state’s comptroller of the revenue the above racially profiled groups contribute to the state’s economic coffers could help in reconciling whether the actions of the Detroit Border Patrol Sector should re-direct their approaches elsewhere in dire need of attention.

In sum, the instance case could prove of value in ensuring much needed consistency in expediting immigration law without violating the rights of all individuals within the nation’s geographic borders. It could also ensure border patrol actions are not in conflict with the realm of other laws that intersect with the immigration law template. Perhaps and finally it could draw yet more needed attention on the highly recognized economic benefits and contributions of diverse populations groups in urban and rural environments.

[1]Muñiz al., v. Gallegos et al., Class Action Complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Case 3:09-cv-0265-JA and filed on Dec. 10, 2009.

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