At 9:00PM on June 23, 2011, Officer Leetz of the Anacortes Police Department (Washington State) pulled over Mr. Vargas for failing to signal before a left turn. Officer Leetz claimed to be unable to communicate with Mr. Vargas in English at the scene of the stop but continued questioning him in English and obtaining Mr. Vargas’ driver’s license, registration and insurance. Officer Leetz contacted United States Border Patrol because Mr. Vargas’ Social Security Number associated with his driver’s license was blank. Officer Leet’s was ignorant to Washington State law, which does not require drivers to provide a Social Security Number in order to get a license.
Officer Leetz informed Border Patrol Agent Hafstadt that he suspected Mr. Vargas was illegally in the US based solely on his inability to speak English and the fact that he did not have a social security number associate with his driver’s license, neither of which are crimes. Agent Hafstadt ran Mr. Vargas’ information through a series of databases, which returned no results other than an indication that Mr. Vargas has a valid Washington State License.
Agent Hafstadt proceeded to question Mr. Vargas via speakerphone on the cell of Officer Leetz. Mr. Vargas declined to answer any questions without a lawyer present. At that point Officer Leetz had Mr. Vargas exit his vehicle, frisked him, cuffed him, drove him to the police station in his patrol car and detained him.
DHS then sent an agent to question Mr. Vargas at the local police station regarding his immigration status at which time Mr. Vargas requested an attorney again. Mr. Vargas eventually admitted to being a citizen of Mexico who had been residing in the US for ten years. He was fingerprinted by Agent Reyes and placed in a prison cell at the Bellingham Border Patrol Station, where he remained overnight.
Federal District Court Judge James L. Robart found that under these circumstances the Federal Government unlawfully arrested Mr. Vargas as they had no lawful basis to arrest him Mr. Vargas. The Judge found that the justification given for his arrest and detention, “if accepted would cast suspicion on a large segment of the law-abiding population.”
Under the justification provided by the Federal Government, essentially ever Latino in America would be subject to apprehension by DHS. This judgment makes it clear that DHS cannot unlawfully arrest and detain individuals without probable cause based solely on their race or ability to speak English.