SAN DIEGO – Charging that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have failed to respond to requests for information regarding U.S. Border Patrol’s interior “roving patrol” operations—during which agents stop and detain Southern Californians as far as 100 miles north of the Mexico border—the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and the University of California, Irvine School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic (IRC) filed a lawsuit in federal court today.
“Many Americans are unaware that the U.S. 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 with 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 farmworkers 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) indicate the extent to which Californians are targeted by this far-reaching and abusive federal law enforcement activity.
On July 3, 2014, the ACLU of San Diego and the ACLU of Southern California, along with faculty members in the UC Irvine School of Law IRC, submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to both DHS and CBP seeking records related to the Border Patrol’s extensive but largely opaque “roving patrol” operations throughout Southern California. To date, neither agency has responded to the FOIA.
“It was important for us to join this effort to get basic information about U.S. 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 of today’s FOIA complaint.
Roving patrols have long been associated with civil rights violations, and abuses are not limited to the Southwest, as prior FOIA lawsuits have shown. In 2011, the ACLU obtained records of Border Patrol 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 officials,” said Adrienna Wong, Staff Attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.
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. 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.
The ACLU’s Border Litigation Project, with offices in San Diego and Tucson, is engaged in a coordinated FOIA strategy to lift the veil of secrecy behind which DHS, CBP, and the Border Patrol seek to hide.