Federal Judge Rules Border Patrol Unlawfully Arrested Anacortes Man

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Seattle, WA

Contact: Matt Adams, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project:
(206) 957-8611, matt@nwirp.org


Seattle (March 31, 2015) – A federal district court judge has ruled that the U.S. Border Patrol unlawfully arrested an Anacortes resident in 2011. U.S. District Court Judge James L. Robart declared that the Border Patrol did not have a lawful basis to arrest Gustavo Vargas when a Border Patrol agent requested an Anacortes Police officer to detain Mr. Vargas, concluding that the justification provided by the Border Patrol “if accepted, would cast suspicion on large segments of the law-abiding population.” The ruling came in a case filed on behalf of Mr. Vargas by Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP).


“This case highlights how collaboration between local police and Border Patrol often encourages unconstitutional practices like racial profiling,” said Matt Adams, legal director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. “The ruling reaffirms that Border Patrol must respect the constitutional rights of all persons.”


On June 23, 2011, Mr. Vargas was pulled over by an Anacortes Police officer for failing to use his turn signal. The officer called the Border Patrol after noting that Mr. Vargas did not have a social security number listed with his driver’s license, although this is not a requirement under Washington law. The Border Patrol agent told the Anacortes Police officer to hold out his phone to Mr. Vargas so that he could ask him questions, but Mr. Vargas asserted that he would not answer any questions without an attorney. The Border Patrol agent responded by instructing the Anacortes Police officer to detain Mr. Vargas and take him to the Anacortes Police station until a Border Patrol agent could arrive. Judge Robart ruled that the agent’s suspicions did not provide legal justification for an arrest, and accordingly, that the Border Patrol unlawfully instructed the Anacortes Police officer to detain Mr. Vargas.


The judge found that many of the reasons Border Patrol offered to justify the arrest were, at best, “minimally probative” of Mr. Vargas’s alleged unlawful immigration status. In discussing the agency’s reliance on Mr. Vargas’s apparent ethnicity, Judge Robart cautioned that “stops based on race or ethnic appearance send the underlying message to all our citizens that … those who are not white enjoy a lesser degree of constitutional protection.”


At the time of his arrest, Mr. Vargas, an artist of local renown, had just been informed his work would be showcased at the Anacortes Arts Festival that summer. But he was forced to miss the festival after the arrest led to a detention lasting more than two months.


“The Washington Constitution forbids the police officer’s behavior in prolonging a traffic stop to investigate Mr. Vargas’s immigration status,” added Glenda M. Aldana Madrid, a NWIRP staff attorney who also represented Mr. Vargas on the case. Mr. Vargas previously reached a monetary settlement for $8,500 with the Anacortes Police Department after filing a complaint about their involvement in immigration enforcement. “We’re glad that a federal court has now made it clear that Border Patrol’s actions were unlawful, too.”


Judge Robart issued his ruling declaring Border Patrol’s actions unlawful on Monday, March 23, 2015 and then entered a final order on the case today after the parties advised the court that they reached a monetary settlement for $10,000, disposing of the remaining claims.


A copy of Judge Robart’s March 23rd decision can be found here, and his final order can be found here.


A copy of the complaint can be found here.


* * *

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project promotes justice for low-income immigrants by pursuing and defending their legal status. We focus on providing direct legal services, supported by our education and public policy work. NWIRP is the only entity in the list of “Free Legal Services” that is given to individuals placed in removal (aka deportation) proceedings in Washington State.