Our Opinion: ICE should not be above the law
On Sept. 18, 2017, a Washington County employee and his wife were confronted by a man and a woman in street clothes — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents — outside the Washington County Courthouse.
The county employee, Isidro Andrade Tafolla, was questioned about his identity and shown a picture of an undocumented immigrant wanted by ICE.
But ICE had the wrong man. Andrade Tafolla, who lives in Forest Grove, is a U.S. citizen who came to the United States legally from Mexico in the 1990s, and he wasn't the man in the picture.
A video captured by an American Civil Liberties Union observer shows a small crowd gathering as the agents, who do not identify themselves in the video and are not wearing any sort of insignia or uniform to indicate they are ICE officers, question Andrade Tafolla. His wife and several onlookers grow increasingly agitated as the video goes on before the agents walk away, without providing an explanation or an apology.
The incident drew attention to a highly controversial tactic that ICE has used as its behavior has become increasingly heavy-handed. In Hillsboro and other cities, ICE agents will sometimes wait outside the courthouse to detain or arrest people suspected of being in the country illegally. Some local officials, including Sheriff Pat Garrett and District Attorney Kevin Barton, say the tactic may discourage immigrants, documented and otherwise, from appearing in court.
But for Andrade Tafolla, it was just humiliating.
"It was insulting to be shown a picture of someone else and be told that it was you. This is wrong," he told reporters at the time. "Telling me I look like somebody else because of the color of my skin? I was racially profiled. I was discriminated against. I was violated of my civil rights."
On Monday, the ACLU and Andrade Tafolla filed a $100,000 federal claim against ICE for detaining Andrade Tafolla, racially profiling him and causing him public humiliation.
Now, we probably won't make anyone happy by writing this, but we believe reasonable people can disagree over how best to enforce immigration laws. There are sound arguments, both logical and emotionally heartfelt, for loosening enforcement to the point of virtually having open borders. There are sound arguments, both logical and emotionally heartfelt, for taking a hard line on unlawful entry and cracking down on the practice of employing undocumented workers. There are sound arguments for every position in between.
But there is a line. In fact, it can be drawn pretty clearly. That's why it's troubling that federal authorities so frequently appear to overstep it.
Last year, this editorial board expressed horror over the Trump administration's practice of separating families at the border — including people who have presented themselves to authorities to seek legal asylum, which is their right under law — and housing infants and children in cramped, sometimes kennel-like facilities with little transparency or oversight. This practice has only become more draconian and more widespread.
Stopping a person on the street and questioning him until it becomes apparent he's not the guy doesn't shock and outrage the conscience in the same way as taking babies out of their mothers' arms. But it is, nonetheless, clearly emblematic of an overreaching government that has lost sight of its morals in pursuit of political objectives.
Some Americans believe ICE should be abolished, its agents fired en masse from federal employ, and replaced either by a new immigration enforcement system or by nothing at all. Many more believe the agency is in need of reform, whether major or minor, but they won't go so far as to say it should be dismantled altogether.
But regardless of your position on ICE, it seems we should all be able to agree that legal residents and citizens, natural-born or otherwise, should not be interrogated on the street and accused of being an illegal alien.
Collective punishment is illegal under international law. We can't accept the logic that it's OK if a few thousand children are forcibly taken away from their parents, some never to be reunited, or that it's OK if some are sexually or physically abused, or even die, in U.S. custody, as a "deterrent" against people coming to the border and crossing illegally, or asking to be granted asylum. Likewise, we can't accept the logic that it's OK if some legal residents and citizens are harassed and detained by their own government because the color of their skin matches that of the migrants it's trying to push out.
There are conflicting accounts as to whether the ICE agents who accosted Andrade Tafolla identified themselves, as they're required to do by law. Andrade Tafolla said they did not. In the ACLU video, his wife can be heard several times to say she doesn't know who the people questioning him are.
Characteristically, ICE was slippery in a letter it sent to U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, who demanded answers from the agency after the encounter.
"Officers are required to identify themselves to individuals they stop for questioning as part of their official duties. ... Any recording that failed to capture the beginning of the encounter when officer self-identification took place should not be relied upon to allege the officers failed to identify themselves as ICE officers," ICE official Raymond Kovacic wrote, dancing around the question of whether said officers did, in fact, identify themselves.
Read ICE official Raymond Kovacic's Oct. 25, 2017, letter to Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, as it was republished by The Oregonian/OregonLive.
Whether the agents identified themselves or not, one thing is clear: ICE agents stopped an innocent man outside his own workplace, accused him of a crime he didn't commit, and never apologized for the case of mistaken identity or the accusations they made.
In fact, in his letter, Kovacic portrayed the agents as the real victims in the ordeal.
"While the video only partially captures the encounter, it does serve to illustrate the hostile environment that ICE officers must confront every day," he wrote. "In spite of being verbally abused, ICE officers demonstrated great restraint and professionalism throughout the encounter."
Pardon us if we're not presenting those ICE officers with medals of valor for wrongly accosting an American, then walking off without so much as the word "sorry."
Enforcing our nation's immigration laws is a difficult exercise, and we don't envy the task that ICE agents have. But it doesn't seem so much to ask that they treat the people with whom they come in contact with the respect and courtesy they want to be shown to them. Who knows? Maybe a sincere apology would have been enough to satisfy Andrade Tafolla and head off a federal lawsuit. And even if he still decided to press charges, it would have still been the right thing to do, given the circumstances.
One thing conservatives and liberals in the United States broadly agree on is that the government should respect the rights of the people it serves and represents. That treatment shouldn't be reserved for white Americans, or natural-born Americans, or even solely American citizens. The government, including law enforcement at every level, should treat people with fairness and dignity.
So we're rooting for Andrade Tafolla in federal court. If ICE won't admit when it makes a mistake, or try of its own volition to make things right — well, that's why Americans have the right to ask for legal remedies.
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