TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — U.S. Border Patrol agents who watch over northern Ohio not far from the Canadian border routinely engaged in racial profiling to roundup Hispanics and often used racially offensive terms to describe them, an attorney told a federal judge Tuesday.
Two groups that work with Hispanics in Ohio filed a lawsuit against the border patrol, accusing the agency of targeting and detaining Hispanics solely based on their ethnicity.
"The border patrol was basically going out and hunting people with brown skin," said John Murray, an attorney representing the two groups.
A lawyer from the U.S. Justice Department told the judge that part of the border patrol's mission was to arrest people who are illegally in the country, but he denied that agents were profiling Hispanics and said that statistics don't back up the claims of discrimination.
The government argued that the plaintiffs' analysis of border patrol logs was flawed and did not show racial profiling.
The lawsuit brought by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and the Immigrant Worker Project said the agency's logs show a disproportionate number of stops involving Hispanics.
Murray said that emails showed two of the former leaders of the border patrol's northern Ohio office routinely described Hispanics using inappropriate racial terms that were "dehumanizing."
William Silvis, an attorney with the Justice Department, said the terms were used to describe immigration status. "It does not refer to any one group," he said.
The lawsuit is focused on border agents who patrol the Lake Erie region between Toledo and Cleveland, including the 100-mile border that crosses through the lake.
The agency opened an office in Port Clinton six years ago after determining that section of the border was essentially unguarded, Silvis said.
The groups suing the agents said the incidents began soon after the office opened.
They want U.S. District Court Judge Jack Zouhary to declare that the border patrol's policies and practices violated the U.S. Constitution and to stop the agents from relying on race as part of their enforcement activities. They also want the judge to force the agents to keep a record of everyone they stop, not just those who are arrested or detained.
Several people plan to testify about seven instances where agents lacked the needed suspicion or were motivated by race to stop someone, court documents said.
Willian Bautista-Morales testified that agents stopped him twice within four years even though he had a valid New Mexico driver's license. He said the encounters left him intimidated by the border patrol.