Among Some Washington Immigrants, a Fear of 911

Adding to the legal entanglements Washington's beefed up Border Patrol forces have spurred, a Seattle civil rights group is now complaining that some of the state's immigrants don't feel safe calling 911, since their calls will be fielded by a border agent.

In the border towns of Blain, Lynden and Sumas, Border Patrol has agreed to handle 911 dispatch services for no charge, according to the complaint filed by Community to Community. The service began in 2000, and as the number of border patrol agents in the state tripled after Sept. 11, Latinos in the area report that calling for help brought anything but.

“People are afraid to call the police for help because they know they are connected to immigration,” according to a community member quoted in the complaint. “It's hard to tell apart who is who because we feel they [local law enforcement and federal immigration] are the same.”

According to the complaint, many Latinos report that when they call 911, Border Patrol agents arrive at the scene and ask for people's names.

“For us,” another community member says in the complaint, “911 as an emergency number is not possible; it no longer exists.”

The complaint comes on the heels of widespread concern over Washington law enforcement using Border Patrol agents for interpretation services, which a civil rights lawsuit says amounts to racial profiling.

The Border Patrol has dropped the interpretation services in light of the criticism, but more broadly, law enforcement has responded that, with limited resources, it only makes sense that they share resources. Given that the federal government was offering the dispatch services for free, it appears to have been an offer the communities couldn't refuse.

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