October 5, 1997 in City

Border Patrol Raids Pumpkin Farm Arrests Of 58 Migrant Workers Rekindles Racism Debate

Associated Press
 

An immigration raid on a pumpkin farm has resulted in 58 arrests and renewed debate over Border Patrol operations and tactics.

Accusations of racism, bullying and violence were leveled by owners of North Fork Farms and migrant workers’ advocates after 41 men and 17 women were arrested Thursday morning for investigation of having improper work documents. Six were arrested at a neighboring leek farm.

“This is completely unacceptable,” said Hollis Pfitsch, a coordinator for the Washington Alliance for Immigrant and Refugee Justice in Seattle. “Law enforcement is one thing. Abuse of power is something else.”

Workers arrested in immigration raids may request hearings or accept immediate deportation.

Gene Davis, assistant chief Border Patrol agent in Blaine, said Friday there had been complaints that workers used forged immigration papers to obtain jobs on the farm. He questioned the reports of impropriety by agents.

“If there’s one thing we emphasize, it’s to be professional and to try to treat people with courtesy,” Davis said.

Farm owner Michelle Youngquist issued a written statement saying she was unaware of any undocumented workers and saw no abuse but heard reports of abuse afterward.

Pfitsch said agents roughed up several workers, throwing one against the side of a van so hard it shook, and dehumanized the rest.

One witness, Hugo Torres, a worker at the farm, said he saw an agent grab the breasts and buttocks of female workers.

“When I told him that he wasn’t supposed to be doing that, he started to question me,” Torres wrote. “When he realized I was a U.S. citizen, he got a shocked look on his face and then would not look me in the eyes.”

Davis admitted receiving some complaints and said they would be referred to an independent review board for investigation. The agency has been focusing on improving its reputation, he added.

“We do not take it lightly,” Davis said.

“We make it very clear to officers that we will not tolerate that (behavior),” he said. “We have a job to do, but that doesn’t mean we try to put people down or treat people disrespectfully.”

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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