ICE officials say video of Hillsboro incident 'not reliable'
Federal immigration officials have reiterated that agents did not racially profile a Forest Grove resident when they stopped to question him outside the Hillsboro courthouse in September, the same day federal lawmakers called for a federal investigation into what occurred.
In a letter sent to Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici on Wednesday, Raymond Kovacic, assistant director of congressional relations with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, wrote that ICE agents were doing their jobs when they questioned Isidoro Andrade-Tafolla, a longtime employee of Washington County and a U.S. citizen.
The incident occurred on Sept. 18 outside the Washington County Circuit Court. According to Andrade, he and his wife were approached by two people demanded that Andrade provide his name and identification. Neither identified themselves as federal agents, Andrade said, and 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.
Bonamici and Congressman Earl Blumenauer, both democrats, called on ICE to look into the incident, and were told by the local ICE office that Andrade's version of events was untrue.
On Wednesday, Bonamici and Blumenauer asked the House Judiciary Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform committee to hold hearings on ICE's policies and procedures.
"These incidents, several of which are recorded on video, call into question whether ICE officials are conducting themselves in full accordance with federal law and agency policies and procedures," the lawmakers said in a joint statement. "In the last several months there have been multiple allegations of ICE officers around the country failing to follow proper protocol, potentially acting in violation of an individual's constitutional rights in some instances."
That same day, Bonamici and Blumenauer received a letter from Kovacic, who said agents did identify themselves to Andrade. Cellphone video taken during the incident does not show that exchange, but Kovacic said the video was not a reliable depiction of what happened, as it did not capture the entire encounter.
"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," Kovacic said.
The video --- taken by members of the American Civil Liberties Union --- shows agents questioning Andrade and his wife as ACLU members attempt to stop the incident and question the agents.
"While the video only partially captures the encounter, it does serve to illustrate the hostile environment that ICE officers must confront every day," Kovacic wrote. "In spite of being verbally abused, ICE officers demonstrated great restraint and professionalism throughout the encounter."
Kovacic said that agents must decide in the field how visible they make their ICE insignia. ICE officials said earlier this month that agents are regularly met with hostility in the Portland area.
"In certain situations, high visibility attire hinders or endangers safety and officers may decide not to broadcast their identity," Kovacic wrote. "Even in low visibility situations, officers are required to identify themselves to individuals they stop for questioning as part of their official duties."
After the incident made headlines, Bonamici and Blumenauer called on ICE to investigate the incident and provide answers about the agency's policies for interrogating suspects.
In a joint statement, Bonamici and Blumenauer said that the letters didn't match Andrade's version of events. Andrade has said repeatedly that agents did not disclose that they were law enforcement agents at the time.
"Our constituents in Oregon are deeply concerned by these aggressive actions. ICE must be held accountable when enforcement encroaches on civil liberties," the lawmakers wrote.
By Geoff Pursinger
Associate Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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