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Photo: ACLU of Michigan
Michigan's Border Patrol is in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Photo: ACLU of Michigan

Arrested for speaking Spanish? New damning ACLU report puts national spotlight on Michigan border patrol

Lawmakers have signed a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, demanding he address the allegations presented in the report.

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Two House Democrats, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, have asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to address the serious allegations of discrimination by Michigan Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) agents, outlined in a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU.)

The lawmakers sent a letter to Mayorkas on Wednesday, Aug. 4, demanding answers and a plan of action.

The ACLU report, which was released in March, revealed a concerning pattern of racial profiling targeted towards individuals of Latin American origin. 

Only 5.3% of Michigan’s total population identifies as Hispanic, yet almost all the individuals apprehended by CBP across the entire state (over 96%) were described as non-white. 

According to the report, the simple act of speaking Spanish was viewed by border patrol agents as probable cause for suspicion. This was observed in 19.2% of roving patrol and transit check arrests. 

Geoffrey Alan Boyce, one of the report’s main authors and an academic director at Earlham College’s border studies program, told NBC News that there were also many instances of neighbors reporting their own neighbors for speaking Spanish. 

“Speaking Spanish in public is not, and should never be, a suspicious thing to do or an arrestable offense. But yet that’s what you see actually initiating these enforcement accounts,” Boyce said. 

 

 

Rep. Tlaib wrote on Twitter that she has personal experience with the discriminatory neighborhood patrolling as a former immigration attorney. 

“I saw firsthand the climb in CBP patrolling our neighborhoods and my neighbors being targeted, many of which were born here. Dismantling structural racism starts with accountability + truth,” Tlaib wrote. 

In addition to discrimination based on language use, the ACLU also discovered that border patrol agents engaged in blatant racial profiling through the use of “complexion codes” to describe those who have been apprehended. 

More than 96% of those apprehended are reported as being “Black,’ “Dark Brown,” “Dark,” “Light Brown,” “Medium Brown,” “Medium,” or “Yellow.” 

The main objective of Michigan CBP is to apprehend people attempting to cross into the United States from Canada without authorization, yet data shows that the vast majority of their encounters were unrelated to illegal crossings from Canada. 

Thousands of daily apprehension logs showed that 3% of the people arrested by border patrol agents in Michigan were U.S. citizens. Even more telling, nearly 13% of all noncitizens apprehended were found to have some kind of lawful immigration status that allows them to reside in the U.S. 

“If you were not born in the United States, that by definition, means you crossed a border at some point in the past. But that doesn’t mean you crossed in Michigan, that doesn’t mean you crossed unlawfully,” Boyce said. 

Border patrol agents detained more people (nearly 64%) for routine traffic stops and reasons besides border violations, according to the report. In almost all of these cases, agents cited a person’s alleged reaction to seeing a marked border patrol agent or vehicle as a basis for suspicion. 

Whether drivers of color acknowledged or looked at an agent or didn’t, and whether they sped up or slowed down, the action was recorded as “suspicious” and was used as a justification for a vehicle stop. Boyce described this practice as “shockingly arbitrary and contradictory.” 

“For the above reasons, we request that you provide the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties with a Member briefing no later than Sept. 1, 2021, on your Department’s efforts to respond to the findings of the ACLU’s report about CBP misconduct in Michigan and your plans to reform DHS conduct,” Reps. Tlaib and Raskin wrote in their letter. 



 

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