WASHINGTON -- Immigrants and minorities who live near the U.S. northern border are fearful of Customs and Border Protection agents, accusing them of racial profiling, according to a report released Tuesday.
"We're really used to hearing about this stuff on the southern border," said Ada Williams Prince, policy director for One America, an anti-racial profiling organization that released the report with the University of Washington Center for Human Rights. "[Washington] is where they filmed the "Twilight" movies. It's all beautiful, but in reality you're talking about communities that have been harassed ... and are living under this climate of fear."
The report, based on interviews with more than 100 men and women who live within the border protection area on northern Washington, found many Latinos and Arab-Americans were afraid to call 911, even to report crime, because they said they did not want to attract government attention.
In some cases, One America found that border protection responded to medical emergencies calls or served as translators for local police, then inquired about immigration status. The study also found some immigrants were stopped based only on the color of their skin, according to One America.
A spokesperson for border protection said the agency "strictly prohibits profiling on the basis of race or religion" and follows the Department of Justice's "Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies."
The agency has been questioned about racial profiling before. The New York University School of Law, advocacy group Families for Freedom and the New York Civil Liberties Union released a report in November 2011, raising concerns about racial profiling by border protection in transportation raids.
Border protection rapidly expanded over the past decade, from 340 agents along the U.S.-Canada border in the 2001 fiscal year to 2,069 in the 2010 fiscal year. But on Tuesday, One America urged the government to stop growing its northern presence until questions of racial profiling are addressed.
Immigrant rights groups have raised similar concerns with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which often works in concert with border protection. One of ICE's key enforcement programs, Secure Communities, disproportionately nets Latinos, according to a report from Berkeley Law School.
Retired Sacramento, Calif., police chief Arturo Venegas Jr., said in November that local law enforcement could scare immigrants away from reporting crime by assisting in immigration efforts.
"The immigrant community needs to know that they can work with state and local police to put criminals behind bars and not risk their own deportation," he told House members at a subcommittee hearing on Secure Communities.
Senate Democrats attempted a national conversation on racial profiling, holding a hearing Tuesday. The panelists discussed the February shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager in Florida, as well as profiling of Muslim Americans and Latinos. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who led the hearing, emphasized the need to pass the End Racial Profiling Act, which would require federal agencies to adopt policies aimed at eliminating racial profiling.
"Let's be clear. The vast majority of law enforcement officers perform their jobs honorably and courageously, putting their lives at risk to protect the communities they serve," he said in a speech. "But the inappropriate actions of the few who engage in racial profiling create mistrust and suspicion that hurt all police officers."
CLARIFICATION: This article has been corrected to clarify that Families of Freedom is a separate organization from the NYU School of Law, although they worked together on the report.