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CBP spokesman Michael Friel said the new policy “helps further focus CBP efforts on its primary mission to secure our nation’s borders.” He said the agency “remains committed to assisting our law enforcement partners in their enforcement efforts.” He said the new policy ensures that support to law enforcement counterparts “is in keeping with CBP’s established enforcement priorities while continuing to ensure officer safety.”

The CBP statement did not mention the position of immigration advocates concerning the policy or the fact that the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed a civil rights complaint this year with the Justice Department and the Homeland Security Department challenging the practice of using Border Patrol agents as “interpreters.” The complaint said the practice violated federal civil rights laws by failing to ensure that all people have access to government services, regardless of limited English skills.

Several rank-and-file Border Patrol agents said the inability to communicate effectively would inhibit intelligence collection and drive a wedge between Border Patrol agents and officers from other agencies. They also noted that the new policy does not provide for discretion, meaning agents in the field will have to refuse to respond to a call for assistance.

“Imagine the frustration of a local sheriff who needs translation assistance in the middle of the night on a weekend,” one senior agent said. “The sheriff knows we have units close by who are not tied up, but we simply refuse to respond. What a devastating impact this policy will have at every level.”