[lg policy] Washington State: Bias seen in Forest Service practice on Olympic Peninsula

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 1 18:55:22 UTC 2012

Bias seen in Forest Service practice on Olympic Peninsula

A federal ruling made public Thursday found that the U.S. Forest
Service's use of Border Patrol agents as language interpreters in
stops involving Latinos on the Olympic Peninsula is discriminatory.

By Lornet Turnbull

Seattle Times staff reporter

The U.S. Forest Service's use of Border Patrol agents as language
interpreters and for law enforcement in stops involving Latinos on the
Olympic Peninsula is discriminatory, the U.S. Department of
Agriculture said in a decision. As a result, the Office of the
Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights within the USDA, which oversees
the Forest Service, has ordered the agency to establish a new national
policy so that non-English speakers can use national forests and parks
without "an escalated risk of harm."

The USDA's lengthy and detailed decision is the result of an
investigation into a complaint filed by a Hispanic woman in Forks,
after her encounter last year with a Forest Service officer just
outside the Olympic National Park. The woman, unnamed in the report,
and her male partner had been picking salal when a Forest Service
officer approached and asked to see their IDs and permit to pick

When a Border Patrol agent arrived a short time later, the two — both
Latinos — ran. While the woman was quickly apprehended, her partner
jumped into the fast-moving Sol Duc river and drowned. Jorge Barón,
executive director of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which filed
the case on the woman's behalf, said the decision, vindicates
complaints made by many about discriminatory practices of the Forest
Service on the Olympic Peninsula.

Tension there between the Border Patrol and Latinos and their
advocates has escalated in recent years as the Border Patrol has
increased its presence.  The use of these agents as Spanish-language
interpreters is not unique to the Forest Service. In April, the
Immigrant Rights Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of
Washington filed a separate complaint with the U.S. Department of
Justice and Department of Homeland Security regarding the use of
Border Patrol agents as interpreters for other law-enforcement
agencies in the state.

The Forest Service officer involved in the Forks complaint told
investigators that it's common for him to call the Border Patrol and
that he did so in this case for two reasons: interpretation and
backup. His predecessor, he pointed out to them, had been killed in
the line of duty at a traffic stop and that salal harvesters often use
machetes or gloves with knives or razors attached to them when

But USDA investigators reviewed all incident reports ever written by
him and found that in every case where he called the Border Patrol,
the individuals were Latino. Further, they found that he never sought
backup from Border Patrol for non-Latinos — even in instances where
those individuals lacked valid IDs or permits or were in possession of
dangerous weapons and acting aggressively.

Discrimination, the decision said, is heightened by the agency's use
of Border Patrol agents as interpreters but can be mitigated by
"well-designed practices and policies." The Forest Service, the
decision said, "has no specific policy regarding the use of Border
Patrol as a backup to provide guidance or safeguard against

The ruling orders the Forest Service officer to complete 40 hours of
civil-rights training. It also requires the Forest Service to post in
its offices throughout the Olympic National Forest a notice
acknowledging that it violated nondiscrimination laws and providing
directions for how those who believe they have faced discrimination
may file a complaint.

The agency is also required to establish a policy to ensure
non-English speakers have access to national lands and another to
monitor for racial profiling by collecting information on the race and
ethnicity of individuals and instances when backup is used.



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


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