Our opinion: Lines government shouldn't cross
Washington County resident Isidro Andrade Tafolla and the Oregon branch of the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a federal claim against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, seeking $100,000 for his humiliation, emotional distress and psychological harm after he was questioned by ICE agents in September 2017.?
The case raises troubling questions about how people of color are treated in our community. And about how "safe" a "safe haven" our courthouses are.
According to the complaint, ICE agents were watching the Washington County Courthouse when Andrade Tafolla and his wife were taking part in an unrelated court hearing. When the couple was finished, agents apparently followed them to their vehicle, detained them and began to question them.
ICE is a federal law enforcement agency under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The agents allegedly never identified themselves. They also, apparently, demanded Andrade Tafolla provide his name and identification. The agents claimed he was in the country without proper documentation and planned to arrest and deport him.
The problem with that is, Andrade Tafolla has lived in the United States for decades and works for Washington County
They also allegedly showed him a picture of a Latino man they claimed was a picture of him, but wasn't. And according to Andrade Tafolla, there wasn't even any resemblance. He said it was just "another brown-skinned man" who didn't look like him.
ICE has said it acted professionally during the incident and pushes back against claims that its agents did not identify themselves or that Andrade Tafolla was ever formally detained.
Reasonable people can disagree over how best to enforce immigration laws. There are sound arguments, both logical and emotionally heartfelt, for loosening enforcement and for tightening enforcement.
But there are lines that should not be crossed. Did the ICE agents properly identify themselves? The couple involved say they did not, a video of the incident doesn't show any badges, and ICE's explanation seems murky.
A letter sent to U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, who demanded answers from the agency, reads, "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."
That sounds like dancing around a straight "yes" or "no" answer to the congresswoman.
Whether the agents identified themselves or not, one thing is clear: ICE agents stopped an innocent man, accused him of a crime he didn't commit, in front of his wife, and never apologized for the case of mistaken identity or the accusations they made.
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 immigrant.
The bigger issue, in the eyes of Bonamici, as well as Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett and Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton, is that federal authorities ought not to be staking out the county courthouse. These officials want every resident of the county to be able to take full advantage of the courthouse, without fear of an immigration-service ambush.
We agree with Bonamici, Garrett and Barton. Any action that discourages residents from the full use of the county courthouse must be curtailed. We feel the same way about allegations of ICE agents watching public schools and health clinics. If true, this must stop.
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, themselves, would want to be shown.
Who knows? Maybe a sincere apology would have been enough to satisfy Andrade Tafolla and head off a federal lawsuit.
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.
If ICE won't admit when it makes a mistake, or tries of its own volition to make things right — well, that's why Americans have the right to go to court.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.