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Originally published Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 8:06 PM

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Border Patrol oversteps its bounds, coalition says

Advocacy groups are asking Homeland Security to rein in Border Patrol officers along the nation's northern border after a growing number of alleged incidents of harassment.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Rein them in? How about kick the illegals out!!! Intelligence specialists consider... MORE
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Human- and immigrant-rights groups in 13 northern border states are asking Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to enact policies to stem what they say is a growing number of cases of harassment and abuse by U.S. Border Patrol officers of people living in communities along the border.

In a letter, the Northern Border Coalition relates what it says are a series of such incidents by Border Patrol officers in cities in Washington, New York and Michigan — some taking place in church and school parking lots.

One incident involves the shooting death a year ago of 31-year-old Alejandro Perez-Martinez. The mentally ill man was shot 10 times by a Whatcom County sheriff's deputy and a Border Patrol agent after officers responding to a 911 call from the family said Martinez attacked a deputy with a hammer.

An investigation by the Bellingham Police Department found the officers were justified in their use of deadly force.

But a group of community advocates along the northern border delivered a letter to Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo on Tuesday asking for an independent investigation by an agency outside the county and for the creation of a citizens commission to investigate such incidents in the future.

"We hope to help this family get justice," said Kendra Anderson, lead organizer for Seattle-based OneAmerica, an immigrant-rights group.

"But this is part of a bigger movement to hold the Border Patrol accountable across the country and to draw attention to how our tax dollars are being used."

Elfo was not in the office Tuesday and the undersheriff who accepted the letter did not return a phone call seeking comment. Homeland Security also did not respond to a request for comment.

Across the country, coalition members on Tuesday hosted a series of events — including vigils and gatherings — marking the anniversary of Martinez's death.

In the letter to Napolitano, coalition members say many of the incidents along the border involve cases in which Border Patrol officers are called to provide translation for local law enforcement. All 911 calls from the Whatcom County communities of Sumas, Lynden and Blaine are routed through the Border Patrol dispatch center. The Border Patrol is a division within U.S. Customs and Border Protection, responsible for enforcement within 100 miles of the border.

Coalition members pointed out that since Sept. 11, 2001, funding for the agency has more than doubled. They say community/police relations are harmed when local law enforcement engages in immigration enforcement and say a disturbing pattern has emerged of local law enforcement using Border Patrol officers as interpreters in the Latino community.

"As funding for CPB (Customs and Border Protection) has soared, the agency's enforcement activity has drifted inland, often times many miles from the border or any point of entry," the letter said.

"As this enforcement activity ... has increased, so too have questionable practices that violate constitutional rights and standards."

The coalition is asking for a more transparent understanding of the Border Patrol's responsibility aside from illegal entry; for a policy similar to that of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that largely bans enforcement at community gatherings such as funerals, schools and churches; and for barring the use of Border Patrol agents and resources for state and local law-enforcement functions, including operating 911 centers and providing translation.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @turnbullL.

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