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Originally published Friday, September 27, 2013 at 4:03 PM

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Editorial: A watchful eye on Border Patrol

Settlement of a lawsuit alleging unconstitutional stops by the Border Patrol is a reminder that immigration enforcement must not come at the expense of the Fourth Amendment.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE Border Patrol’s critical work to secure Washington’s 427-mile border with Canada must not come at the expense of citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights.

That is what a troubling lawsuit, filed a year ago, claimed. Three citizens, all dark-skinned men, claimed to have been stopped for specious reasons on the Olympic Peninsula by Border Patrol agents.

Two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were Department of Corrections officers working at the Clallam Bay prison. Jose Sanchez says he was pulled over so many times that he started recording stops on his cellphone.

Sanchez’ co-worker at the time, Ernest Grimes, says he was stopped and questioned about his immigration status by a Border Patrol agent clutching a holstered service revolver. This happened, despite the fact that Grimes, also a part-time police officer, was in his DOC uniform at the time.

The suit settled last week, with no money exchanging hands. The Border Patrol admitted no fault and denied the plaintiffs’ allegations.

Regardless of the facts specific to the case, the Border Patrol had a troubling history of importing aggressive tactics from the tense southern border to the sleepier north. Farmers and local leaders from Skagit County to Forks protested random immigration-checks at roadblocks set up far inland from the border. Roving patrols, such as those disturbing Sanchez and Grimes, perpetuated the oppressive atmosphere.

The settlement agreement, filed in Seattle’s federal court, mandates new training and the sharing of field reports with plaintiffs’ attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

If unconstitutional policing patterns jump out of the data, expect a fresh lawsuit.

The federal presence on the northern border, boosted after 9/11 and 1999 stop of the would-be terrorist Ahmed Ressam, requires nuance. The security and immigration issues of Canadian border are not those of Mexico.

Protecting the nation’s borders is a tough, critical job, made harder by Congress’ failure to overhaul immigration policy.

But so is protecting the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. One must not come at the expense of the other.


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