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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

Border Patrol To Stop Acting As Interpreters For Local Police

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

When a police officer needs to question someone in Spanish, or any other language, they can no longer use US Border Patrol agents as interpreters. This change in federal policy comes after a group of attorneys and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) in Seattle filed a complaint earlier this year. 

The document lays out several cases where local law enforcement called in Border Patrol agents to interpret for Spanish speakers. According to the complaint, agents did much more than translate.

Jorge Baron, director of NWIRP, recalled a recent situation where local police brought in border agents on a domestic violence call. “The Border Patrol had already shown up, reportedly to provide interpretation assistance," Baron said. "And they ended up arresting the victim, detaining them and putting them in deportation proceedings."

Baron said the deportation case was eventually dropped. But he said situations like this make undocumented immigrants reluctant to call to police for help.

Now, the Department of Homeland Security has issued new guidelines for border agents. It says if local law enforcement call solely for interpretation help, agents should refer them to a private service.

Bob Caulkins, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, said the change may cause delays or problems in rural areas where language resources are limited. Caulkins said it’s unclear whether alternate language services will add costs.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the number of border agents in Washington has more than doubled.  Immigrant advocates have pushed backed against other contentious enforcement practices, like highway checkpoints. They’ve also filed complaints against racial profiling.

Border Patrol has said it prohibits profiling and is doing its job to enforce immigration laws.

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Year started with KUOW: 2006