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Man sues U.S. over his detention by Border Patrol

Suit says agents had no probable cause to probe his immigration status

The Columbian
Published: January 3, 2014, 4:00pm

ANACORTES — A Skagit County man is suing the federal government after what began as a traffic stop ended in two months in detention and the threat of deportation.

The lawsuit on behalf of Gustavo Vargas Ramirez, a Mexican national, was filed in U.S. District Court on Dec. 27. Vargas is suing the government for the psychological, physical and professional damages incurred due to the incident, which began with a seemingly minor traffic violation in Anacortes on June 23, 2011.

“Mr. Vargas suffered harm, including but not limited to, loss of liberty, severe emotional distress, and invasion of privacy as a result of the false arrest to which he was subjected by USBP (U.S. Border Patrol),” court documents stated.

Vargas is represented by the Northwest Immigration Rights Project in Seattle.

The suit does not say whether Vargas was in the country legally. However, the deportation process was closed on Feb. 6, 2013.

According to court documents, Anacortes police stopped Vargas for failure to signal as he made a left turn. Vargas gave his valid driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance to the officer, who checked the documents.

When the officer noticed that Vargas’ Social Security number returned only zeros, the officer called the Border Patrol, the suit claims, asking about his immigration status. Washington does not require a Social Security number to obtain a driver’s license.

Vargas then spoke with a Border Patrol agent via phone, who tried to question Vargas about his immigration status, according to the lawsuit. Vargas refused to answer questions without an attorney. The agent then advised the Anacortes officer to detain Vargas while an agent drove to Anacortes to continue questioning him.

The lawsuit states Vargas gave officers nothing that would “constitute probable cause or even reasonable suspicion” that he had committed a crime or was in the U.S. unlawfully.

Vargas was held in a holding cell in Anacortes, then transferred to the Bellingham Border Patrol station where he was held overnight. In the morning, he was transferred to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement custody and taken to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

During his detention, Vargas was unable to work and lost his job, and was unable to gain employment for nine months. He also was unable to attend the Anacortes Arts Festival, which affected his income as an artist, the lawsuit states.

The suit also claims Border Patrol agents lied in their report in order to justify Vargas’ detention. For example, the lawsuit claims, the Border Patrol’s report states that an agent went to the site of the initial Anacortes stop, which Anacortes police refuted.

He was held for 10 weeks while the deportation process started, the lawsuit states. He was told he was ineligible to post bond, even though a background check showed no criminal history.

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