The Growing Human Rights Crisis Along the Northern Border

For three years, OneAmerica community organizers had been hearing about the fear and mistrust border residents harbored toward U.S. Border Patrol. Residents living in Snohomish, Whatcom, and Skagit counties were too afraid to go to the courthouse to pay a fine, too mistrustful of the authorities to call 911, or too fearful to leave their home to attend church or go to the grocery store.

How could they become active participants in their communities if they were too scared to leave home?

Organizers interviewed residents in their homes, at work, and in church. We researched and observed how U.S. Border Patrol’s funding soared, its jurisdiction crept further and further inland, and how its role in the community became virtually indistinguishable from local police and 911 emergency service personnel.

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OneAmerica compiled this research into a report and, in April 2012, released The Growing Human Rights Crisis on the Northern Border, which truly demonstrates the transformation of these border communities in the wake of the post-9/11 buildup of U.S. Border Patrol activity in the area.

The report shares the findings from 109 on-the-ground interviews with mothers, fathers, workers, and students. The majority of stories are marked by fear, mistrust, harassment, and abuse. They are rooted in specific—and avoidable—patterns of practice implemented by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), working in close coordination with Immigration and Customs and Enforcement and local law enforcement agencies.

In particular, Growing Human Rights Crisis calls attention to three interrelated patterns of practice:

  • First, in its own independent operations, the Border Patrol engages in systematic profiling of religious and ethnic minorities.
  • Second, collaboration between Border Patrol and other agencies, including local law enforcement, emergency responders, and the courts, results in a confusing and dangerous fusion where vital services are perceived as immigration enforcement.
  • Third, these first two patterns result in a third: U.S. Border Patrol’s behavior and dangerous partnerships with other agencies have created extensive fear and mistrust, leading to community members’ unwillingness to call 911, access the courts, and even to leave their house to attend worship services or fulfill basic needs.

We believe firmly that we must not trade away our rights for security. Documenting what is happening allows us to educate our policy makers so we can push together to change the situation. Our report offers policy recommendations aimed at correcting these wrongs while still protecting our borders, improving the ability for CBP to carry out its mission, and protecting the safety and rights of all who live in these communities.

This report is the product of a unique three-way partnership between OneAmerica, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights, and the residents and leaders of these border communities. It culminates the first stage of a long process of organizing, educating, and empowering northern border communities to defend their human rights.

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