Lawsuit Challenging Government’s Failure to Disclose Information Regarding U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Participation in Domestic Law Enforcement Activities

October 17, 2017

Washington, D.C. – For years, federal immigration officers have injected themselves into routine local emergency services and law enforcement often under the guise of providing translation services. In reality, this practice encourages discrimination against and fear within policed communities. Requests for information to help the public understand these practices and the policies underlying them have been filed pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), yet the government has refused to comply. 

In response, today, the American Immigration Council (Council), Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), the New York Immigration Coalition, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Michigan United, and Migrant Justice—represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, the Council and NWIRP—have filed suit in the District Court of Washington D.C. against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for their failure to disclose records concerning U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) agents’ practice of providing translation and interpretation services to other law enforcement agencies and CBP personnel participating in 911 dispatch activities. 

Despite overwhelming evidence that this practice has resulted in racial discrimination and an erosion of trust between community members and law enforcement, CBP has a history of collecting information about individuals’ immigration status when responding to emergency service calls and participating in state, local, and federal law enforcement actions. 

Plaintiffs first submitted a FOIA request with DHS in 2012 seeking records related to CBP’s practice of providing language services and its involvement in 911 dispatches. In response to this FOIA, the defendants produced incomplete documents which were unlawfully and heavily redacted. 

The Council submitted another FOIA request in March 2017, asking for documents created on or after November 9, 2016. No documents have been produced in response to the 2017 request. 

The lawsuit is asking that the court declare that DHS and CBP’s failure to conduct a reasonable search and refusal to disclose records violated FOIA; to compel defendants to conduct a reasonable search; and to prevent defendants from improperly withholding responsive documents. 

“A federal agency has already ruled that when another law enforcement agency calls Border Patrol, purportedly to provide interpretation services, the inevitable outcome discriminates against Latinos and violates the principles laid out in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act,” said Matt Adams, Legal Director for Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. “In order to maintain accountability, it is critical that DHS produce the documents which demonstrate whether they continue to engage in such ruses.” 

“CBP’s involvement in matters of domestic law enforcement under the false pretenses of assisting with translation breeds a culture of distrust among law enforcement and immigrant communities,” said Trina Realmuto, Directing Attorney at the American Immigration Council.  “We cannot allow CBP to continue to shield their policies and practices from public scrutiny.” 

“Customs and Border Protection’s reluctance to disclose information on their practices surrounding interpretation fits into a long-standing pattern of poor transparency,” said OneAmerica Executive Director Rich Stolz. “The practice of using the Border Patrol to provide translation in local law enforcement interactions undermines community-based law enforcement, and it creates fear and distrust between immigrant communities and the law enforcement agencies that are sworn to protect them. As the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, Customs and Border Protection must be a model for transparency and responsible law enforcement. Sadly, this agency must be reminded that they are not a paramilitary militia, and should be held to the highest professional standards in law enforcement.” 

"Border Patrol's continued involvement in local law enforcement matters and subsequent refusal to disclose information about these cases only further erodes trust between immigrant communities and the police," said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. "New Yorkers will not be safer when people avoid law enforcement for fear of deportation, and we will continue to work with our partners to address this ongoing problem. We will not allow CBP to continue to shield their practices from the public in order to carry out the Trump administration's anti-immigrant agenda." 

“Accountability and openness are among the central pillars of our democracy,” said Betty Yang, a Gibson Dunn attorney involved in this matter. “We are pleased to partner with and represent this impressive group of organizations in defending the rights of some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”


For press inquiries, please contact Wendy Feliz at [email protected] or 202-507-7524

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