SAN FRANCISCO—On January 12, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled two to one that a case alleging civil liberties violations by the U.S. Border Patrol in highway stops can go forward as a class action. The lawsuit, filed by motorists Panchita Hodgers Durgin and Antonio Lopez, charges that Border Patrol agents have systematically engaged in the practice of stopping motorists of Latino appearance without reasonable suspicion of a crime on the highways of southern Arizona.
The new ruling reversed a June 1997 decision by U.S. District Judge John M. Roll in Tucson, who had thrown the case out in response to a summary judgment motion by the government. Roll had claimed that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the case and concluded that the litigation would be unmanageable because of a "potentially staggering" number of witnesses.
Armand Salese, the Tucson attorney who represents the motorists, said the case was based on witness statements and government records, including Border Patrol reports and telephone logs. "The Hispanic community cannot drive between Nogales, Tucson and Phoenix without a good chance they will be stopped by a Border Patrol agent," said Salese, "simply because they look like Mexicans." The plaintiffs, he said, are attempting to compel the Border Patrol, the uniformed arm of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, to change its policies on making random highway stops in an eight-county area of Arizona.
Two similar multimillion-dollar lawsuits have been filed against the city of Chandler, Arizona, in connection with an immigration enforcement operation carried out jointly by Chandler police and U.S. Border Patrol agents from July 27 to 31, 1997. According to a report released by city officials late last year, police agents were inadequately prepared and poorly supervised when they unlawfully stopped and interrogated U.S.-born Hispanics and legal immigrants during the five-day sweep. Phoenix lawyer Stephen Montoya is representing Hispanic plaintiffs in a $35 million class action civil-rights lawsuit against the city of Chandler, now pending in U.S. District Court.
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