Largest law enforcement agency in the country repeatedly ignores allegations of abuses
LOS ANGELES – The ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties and the University of California at Irvine School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic (IRC) today filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Department of Homeland Security’s failure to respond to requests for information regarding U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s interior “roving patrol” operations during which agents stop and detain individuals as far as 100 miles north of the Mexico border in Southern California.
“Many Americans are unaware that the Border Patrol operates so-called ‘roving patrols’ far away from the border itself, deep into the interior of the United States,” said Mitra Ebadolahi, Border Litigation Project staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation of San Diego. “In the course of these operations, federal agents routinely disregard the legal limitations on their authority and violate the civil rights of California residents and visitors. Yet DHS refuses to hold agents accountable and ignores basic requests for information about these abusive practices.”
Reports of Border Patrol agents stopping farm workers and local residents in Fallbrook (seventy miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border) and Laguna Beach (almost ninety miles north of the U.S.-Mexico Border) underscores the extent to which Californians are targeted by this far-reaching and abusive federal law enforcement activity.
On July 3, 2014, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and ACLU SoCal, along with faculty members in the UC Irvine School of Law IRC, submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to both DHS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seeking records related to the agency’s extensive but largely opaque “roving patrol” operations throughout Southern California. To date, CBP has failed to respond to the FOIA request.
“It was important for us to join this effort to get basic information about border patrol practices in our backyard,” said Annie Lai, assistant clinical professor of law at UC Irvine School of Law. Last year, the UC Irvine School of Law International Justice Clinic submitted a report to the United Nations about excessive use of force and lack of transparency by the agency. IRC students Kevin Crockett and Daniel Shahidzadeh assisted with drafting today’s FOIA complaint.
In 2011, the ACLU obtained records of CBP operations in upstate New York, showing the vast majority of stops did not target recent border crossers and occurred far from the border, with only 1% resulting in initiation of removal proceedings; many stops involved clear violations of agency arrest guidelines, as well as the Constitution, including improper reliance on race as a basis for questioning passengers and arrests of lawfully present individuals. Another ACLU lawsuit related to roving patrol stop data is currently pending in Arizona.
“The Border Patrol operates as a rogue agency, claiming extra-constitutional powers that extend far from any border, and operating with no effective oversight. But Border Patrol agents are not above the law and must be held accountable just like any other public official,” said Adrienna Wong, staff attorney at ACLU SoCal.
DHS and CBP fail to adequately collect basic stop data that would allow the agencies to detect, deter and respond to rights abuses—even though such data collection is an accepted law enforcement best practice used by other federal agencies, including the FBI. The agencies also regularly ignore FOIA requests and refuse to make public even the basic information that is collected to allow the public to evaluate Border Patrol activities.
Download the complaint and exhibits
Sandra Hernandez, ACLU of Southern California, (213) 977-5247, firstname.lastname@example.org
Anna Castro, ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, (619) 206-6940, email@example.com
2020 Bill of Rights Awards Virtual Gala