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Discrimination trial set to begin

Plaintiffs allege U.S. Border Patrol agents racially profiled Hispanics

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The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency's Sandusky Bay Station in Port Clinton.

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A racial discrimination trial will begin Tuesday in Toledo’s U.S. District Court, with plaintiffs alleging U.S. Customs and Border Protection profiles Hispanics for stops and apprehension.

The plaintiffs allege that Border Patrol agents at the Sandusky Bay Station “have engaged in a pattern and practice of targeting persons of Hispanic ethnicity,” according to a joint trial brief filed in the court.

The two organizational plaintiffs, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and the Canton-based Immigrant Worker Project, are bringing the suit on behalf of their respective members.

Several group members will testify about their experiences with agents, including apprehensions and arrests at gas stations, rest stops, and traffic stops during which the plaintiffs say didn’t meet the level of suspicion required for a stop or search.

They also contend that border patrol agents used “racially charged” language for people of Mexican descent in internal communication. 

Plaintiffs say that Hispanics are overrepresented in apprehension logs kept by Border Patrol based on demographic makeup of the area.

The plaintiffs are represented by Advocates for Basic Legal Equality and the Sandusky law firm Murray and Murray. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is represented by attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Nicole Navas, spokesman for the DOJ’s civil division, declined to comment beyond case filings, citing the pending trial.

In those filings, the government said the plaintiffs don’t have a case showing discrimination against Hispanics and that any actions were within the law.

The complaints stem from 2009, shortly after the Sandusky Bay Station opened. Eugenio Mollo, Jr., an attorney for ABLE, said agricultural workers shared concerns and complaints about local law enforcement and Border Patrol with ABLE representatives during the nonprofit law firm’s outreach services.

“We heard these complaints from U.S. citizens, from lawful residents, farm workers who didn’t have lawful status, but their connection was all of them were Latino. There are a few stories we hear over and over again,” Mr. Mollo said, citing client complaints of being followed by border patrol at Latino grocery stores, soccer games, and gas stations.

“The client community really feels they are being targeted by Border Patrol’s presence at certain locations.”

The plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief and are asking for the court to prohibit reliance on race as a factor in its enforcement activity through increased monitoring and record keeping of encounters with the public.

“At the moment, the border patrol doesn’t keep records of law enforcement encounters with the public unless it results in an apprehension,” said Leslie Murray, attorney for the plaintiffs.

FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez is expected to testify, as well as Hispanic plaintiffs who have been stopped. Border patrol agents also are scheduled to testify.

Judge Jack Zouhary is assigned to the trial.

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

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