Using Border Agents as Translators Has Tragic Consequences

Border Patrol Agent

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Guest post by Erica Schommer, border immigration attorney

This May, in a police stop gone wrong, Benjamin Roldan Salinas and a companion were detained by the U.S. Forest Service for picking salal (a plant used in floral arrangements), without a license.

Because Salinas did not speak English, the Forest Service called in Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to translate. Events escalated rapidly when Salinas, in fear of being apprehended by immigration agents, ran from the agents to a nearby river.

After days of searching, Salinas’ body was found near the river on June 4. His companion remained with agents, but was subsequently arrested by the CBP for a suspected immigration violation and placed in removal proceedings.

Salinas’ fear was due to a phenomenon in which the CBP is called on by outside law enforcement agencies under the guise of translator. Once on the scene, however, the CBP does not limit itself to translating and will question a person about potential immigration violations if it suspects the person of an infraction. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Migrants’ Rights: A Visual and Verbal Journey

By Amalia Greenberg Delgado, Immigrants’ Rights Coordinator

“You don’t imagine that your dreams can end in a moment on this journey… he [the soldier] pulled me by the hand and told me to walk further into the bushes. He took me far away from the train tracks until we were completely alone. He told me to take my clothes off so that he could see if I was carrying drugs. He said that if I did what he said he would let me go.”
Margarita (not her real name), a 27-year-old Salvadoran migrant, describing how she was sexually abused by a soldier, Amnesty International interview, June 2009.

Every year, tens of thousands of women, men and children travel without legal permission through Mexico to reach the United States. They flee poverty, war, environmental disasters and are enticed by a promise of freedom and a chance to join their families in the North. Some disappear on the journey without trace, kidnapped and killed, robbed and assaulted or sometimes falling or thrown off speeding trains. Some suffer arbitrary detention and extortion by public officials along the way. The litany of abuses and repeated attempts to reach the United States are testaments to the determination migrants have to build a better life.

At the Annual General Meeting (AGM) this past Saturday, March 19, 2011, Amnesty International USA heard from leaders in the movement about increased human rights abuses of migrants on both sides of the United States’ southern border. Father Solalinde, a human rights defender and director of a migrants’ shelter in Oaxaca, spoke of the “globalization of love” and the absolute right to dignity that must be afforded to all human beings. His soft spoken words did not lessen the blows of his words as he reminded us of the struggles that migrants face.


We'll Make Them Disappear

“If you don’t have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he’s illegal, we [ICE] can make him disappear.” So said James Pendergraph, former Executive Director of the ICE Office of State and Local Coordination, in August 2008. I was in attendance at the Police Foundation National Conference where he made this bold assertion, and I couldn’t believe my ears. I actually asked the person next to me if he had just said what I thought he had just said and she affirmed it. Yes, he had just told an audience of police officers, sheriffs and other law enforcement personnel that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could make people disappear. Was I in Chile during Pinochet’s dictatorship? Argentina during the dirty war? Sri Lanka, Iran or some other country where public officials boldly and publicly asserted such an awesome and illegal power? No, I was in the United States, where many ICE officers and their delegates run amok with almost no oversight or accountability.

More scary: in August 2008 James Pendergraph was in charge of managing and overseeing the 287(g) program, which delegates federal immigration enforcement authorities to state and local law enforcement agencies. Unfortunately, it is not at all shocking that today the DHS Office of the Inspector General released a report on the 287(g) program outlining a variety of grave concerns including woefully inadequate safeguards against racial profiling and other civil rights violations, deficient training and supervision of 287(g) empowered police officers, misuse of the 287(g) authority, including one incident in which the victim in an accident was brought to a jail to be processed for deportation, and misleading information to the public about the 287(g) program from the highest levels of ICE leadership to sheriffs on the ground – unfortunately, also not out of the ordinary these days.

For many years, communities subject to the 287(g) program have raised and fought against a variety of unconstitutional acts by police officers acting under this authority. Without a meaningful complaint mechanism the denigration of their human and constitutional rights has continued without acknowledgement or remedy. In fact, it is the outrageous position of ICE that it has no legal responsibility for the actions of 287(g) officers, even though Memorandums of Agreement make clear that law enforcement may only perform immigration enforcement activities under ICE supervision.

Today’s report from the OIG is important and timely. ICE has repeatedly stated that it must do better and can do better at prioritizing who is arrested, detained and deported, and what conditions they will be held in while their fate is decided. Here are a few ideas for how to turn this rhetoric into reality:

• Stop the use and misuse of state and local police officers by suspending all 287(g) agreements.

• Develop performance goals for 287(g) officers that do not focus on the number of immigrants encountered by officers as it incentives unjustifiable stops and arrests.

• Ensure that the training and guidance provided to 287(g) officers thoroughly prepares them to make critical decisions, including whether they will deprive people of their liberty, separate them from their families, and exile them to countries they may not know and governments they may well fear.

• Train all officers, including DHS officers, that every person stopped by a law enforcement officer has fundamental human rights that cannot be denied or ignored including :
o Freedom from torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (ICCPR and CAT),
o Freedom from discrimination such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status (ICCPR),
o Recognition as a person before the law (ICCPR),
o Freedom of thought, conscience and religion (ICCPR),
o Best attainable standard of physical and mental health (ICESCR, ICERD, CEDAW, CRC), and
o Adequate food and water (ICESCR, CRC, CEDAW).

Trail of Dreams Is Trail of Hope

I found myself on the steps of the courthouse with other Amnesty International members. We were holding signs that read “Immigrant Rights Are Human Rights!” and holding our heads even higher. I was proud to be there. But I was prouder of the students making history by walking 1,500 miles for immigrants’ rights. And Atlanta was just one stop along their crucial march for legal recognition, the Trail of Dreams 2010.

Carlos Roa, Juan Rodriguez, Felipe Matos, Gaby Pacheco, photo credit: Joeff Davis/

Carlos Roa, Juan Rodriguez, Felipe Matos, Gaby Pacheco, photo credit: Joeff Davis/

The Trail of Dreams is a trail of hope. It is headed by young people, Felipe, Gaby, Carlos, and Juan, who may lack legal recognition in the US, but carry their human rights. It is a 1,500 mile walk from Miami to Washington D.C to raise awareness about broken US immigration laws and to demand fair and humane immigration law and policy. It is a journey for these students, two of them undocumented, in their fight for rights.

The students walking represent the thousands of young immigrants who were brought to this country in their childhoods by parents who were trying to provide them with a better life. Many live in daily fear of arrest and deportation and have spent their entire lives hiding, understanding that they are considered ‘illegal’ human beings by some lawmakers and media pundits.

Every day in America, hundreds of thousands of young immigrants are unable to fully participate in society. They attend school, play sports and achieve good grades, but are prohibited from receiving any benefits such as in-state tuition to universities they dreamed of attending because they do not have lawful status. Worse, current immigration law provides no avenues for the vast majority of these students to legalize their status, no matter how well they do in school or how much they contribute to their communities. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST