Federal immigration officials say agents did identify themselves and showed their badges before questioning a U.S. citizen outside the Washington County Courthouse in Hillsboro last month.
In a letter received by Oregon Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici on Tuesday, the Portland office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said agents were in the right when they questioned Isidoro Andrade-Tafolla in downtown Hillsboro on Sept. 18.
Andrade — a longtime employee of Washington County and a U.S. citizen —made headlines after he and his wife were stopped by federal immigration agents as they walked to their vehicle outside the Hillsboro courthouse.
According to Andrade, the agents did not identify themselves as federal officers, and instead demanded that Andrade provide his name and identification. The agents reportedly showed a picture of a suspect to Andrade, which they claimed was a photo of him. They said he was living in the country illegally.
"There was no resemblance," Andrade said at a press conference after the incident. "It was insulting to be shown a picture of someone else and be told that it was you. This is wrong. 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."
A member of the American Civil Liberties Union recorded much of the incident and posted the footage online.
ICE's acting field office director, Elizabeth Godfrey, disputed some of those claims, however.
In her letter, dated Oct. 5, Godfrey said agents were at the courthouse waiting for an unnamed suspect they believed would arrive later that day, when they mistakenly identified Andrade as the man they were waiting for, but acted professionally at all times.
"... The ICE officers who initiated the encounter identified themselves to (Andrade), displayed their badges, asked for his name, and requested that he show identification for confirmation," Godfrey wrote. "Such inquiries are an essential part of routine, daily operations for federal, state, and local law enforcement across the country. As soon as officers determined that Mr. Andrade-Tafolla was not the person of interest, the officers apologized and swiftly departed.
"At no point did ICE officers attempt to detain Mr. Andrade-Tafolla. Throughout the encounter, ICE officers handled themselves with professionalism and treated Mr. Andrade-Tafolla with respect."
Godfrey said the agents' actions were consistent with U.S. Department of Homeland Security policies on nondiscrimination, which bars federal agents from considering a suspect's race or ethnicity in law enforcement actions.
"ICE law enforcement activities are not conducted based on racial profiling," Godfrey wrote. "Mr. Andrade-Tafolla was not targeted based on his race, and accusations such as this directly undermine public trust in law enforcement."
Bonamici, along with fellow Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer and Congressmen John Conyers of Michigan and Zoe Lofgren of California, sent a letter to Godfrey and federal ICE officials in September, urging them to investigate the incident. The federal agency had until Oct. 9 to respond to Bonamici's concerns but until Tuesday had not done so.
Godfrey said it's not uncommon for ICE agents to be out of uniform when they conduct operations for safety reasons.
"In the Portland metro area in particular, ICE officers are facing increasingly hostile and aggressive sentiment and obstructionist tactics," Godfrey wrote. "These officers are simply carrying out their duty to uphold the laws that Congress has passed."
In a written statement sent to the Tribune on Tuesday, Bonamici said she was glad she received a response to her inquiry, but said more work was needed to address the issue.
"I still have serious concerns, however, about apparent contradictions in the video released by ACLU of Oregon and ICE's account of the encounter," Bonamici wrote. "To address those concerns, I will continue to press for a response from the federal ICE director."
Andrade's story, first reported by The Oregonian, is the latest in a string of incidents which have involved ICE agents outside the Washington County Courthouse. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, immigration agents have regularly waited outside the Hillsboro courthouse in order to arrest suspects.
The day of Andrade's questioning, protesters met outside the courthouse holding signs calling for ICE to stop the practice, something ICE has refused.
Bonamici told the Tribune she will ask the Congressional Judiciary Committee to look into the incident, as well as legislation Bonamici has written which would ban immigration agents from making arrests outside sensitive locations, such as courthouses.