Blaine, just south of Washington’s US-Canada border, evokes images of pastoral farmland back-dropped by mountains, Boundary Bay views and the idyllically named Peace Arch Park. The worst case scenario for most Seattleites headed to the area is a traffic jam on the way to Canada.
But a newly released report, published by the immigrant advocacy organization OneAmerica in collaboration with the University of Washington Center for Human Rights, says that Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties are experiencing a “growing human right crisis.”
The report alleges that federal and local agencies—including Customs and Border Protection, or Border Patrol, and local law enforcement—racially profile religious and ethnic minorities in the region.
“We often think of these things happening along our southern border and in southern states but it’s also happening here,” says Ada Williams Prince, Policy and Advocacy Director at OneAmerica.The 64-page report draws from 135 incidents reported by Latinos, Muslims and Arabs across the three counties. Allegations include people “with dark skin” specifically targeted by Border Patrol agents at bus stations and ferry terminals, Muslim-Americans questioned about their religion at the border, and numerous traffic stops resulting in demands for proof of immigration status.
According to the report, the result is a “climate of fear” intensified by collaborations between federal agencies and local law enforcement. Examples abound of people in communities of color and immigrant communities that don’t access local services for fear they will be questioned about their immigration status, detained or even deported.
“There was a birthday party that had an emergency, they called 9-1-1, but Border Patrol showed up and interviewed everyone at the party before the ambulance arrived,” says Williams Prince.
A video about Border Patrol responding to 911 calls produced by One America.
The report cites domestic abuse victims afraid to seek help and says local residents won’t shop at Walmart for fear of the Border Patrol agents that hang out in the parking lot.
“Customs and Border Protection (CPB) strictly prohibits profiling on the basis of race or religion,” says Border Patrol spokesman Jeffrey Jones in a prepared statement, “In determining whether individuals are admissible to the US, CBP utilizes specific facts and follows the Department of Justice’s guidance regarding use of race by federal law enforcement agencies.”
According to an article by The Seattle Weekly investigating Border Patrol activity on The Olympic Peninsula, agents along Washington’s northern border have increased by over 700 percent since 9-11 (in 2000 there were 300 agents, by 2010 there were 2,263).
The OneAmerica report, which connects concerns over national security with alleged overreaches by Border Patrol along the Washington’s border, says that of the 43 prosecutions for terrorism in Washington State since 2001, none have been referred to the courts by the Border Patrol.
“We’re afraid of terrorists and so we make the argument that our country is safer when we spend money on national security,” says Williams Prince, “then we conflate national security with immigration enforcement and you get this result.”