Forest Service Ordered To Stop Using Border Patrol As Interpreters

Jun 1, 2012

The U.S. Forest Service can no longer use Border Patrol agents as interpreters. That’s according to an order from the federal agriculture department that was made public this week.

The issue stems from a case on the Olympic Peninsula near Forks last year. A Latino man and woman were picking salal … that’s shrub used in floral arrangements.

They were stopped by a Forest Service officer who said the couple did not have a permit to harvest salal. The man and woman were not native English speakers. The officer called in Border Patrol agents to interpret and for backup. The man fled and jumped into a nearby river and later drowned.

The woman’s case was taken up by the Seattle-based Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. The group argued that the practice of using Border Patrol agents as interpreters is discriminatory.

That’s because federal agencies are supposed to provide "meaningful access” to non-English speakers.

Jorge Baron is with the immigration advocacy group. He praised the decision.

“When you’re trying to provide interpretation by an entity that is really, out to get you essentially, that is not meaningful access," Baron says. "The Border Patrol agents are not acting as neutral interpreters. All of this is a pretext for triggering immigration enforcement, it’s not really about providing access to services.”

As a result of the decision, the Forest Service is directed to come up with a language access plan. Also the Forest Service officers involved in the case have been ordered to complete 40 hours of civil rights training.

This decision only applies to the Forest Service calling in Border Patrol agents.

But Baron says other agencies, including the Washington State Patrol, are also using Border Patrol agents as interpreters. His group has filed a separate complaint about that practice.

Copyright 2012 KUOW.