EL PASO, Texas -- A federal judge says the U.S. Border Patrol violated the civil rights of students and staff at an El Paso high school by stopping them without good cause to determine their citizenship.
U.S. District Judge Lucius D. Bunton ruled Thursday the government must enforce immigration laws but that authority 'does not outweigh the protection of the rights of United States citizens and permanent residents to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.'
The ruling came after a lawsuit was filed by five current and former students, a coach and a school secretary at Bowie High School, which is only a few yards from the Mexican border. They are all Hispanics.
The plaintiffs alleged the Border Patrol agents were abusive, both verbally and physically. They said the agents harassed them by repeatedly asking them about their citizenship.
In one 1991 incident, a Border Patrol agent pointed a gun at the head of Coach Benjamin Murillo after stopping him as he drove some of his students to a varsity football game.
Bunton ordered the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which supervises the Border Patrol, to stop people for questioning only where there is a 'reasonable suspicion (about their citizenship status), based on specific articulable facts involving more than the mere appearance of the individual being of Hispanic descent.'
Steve Williams, deputy chief of the El Paso Border Patrol sector, said all agents would be informed of the ruling.
'We don't feel like we've been doing anything wrong,' Williams said. 'But this was issued for a good cause by a federal judge, and we're going to make sure we're not doing anything wrong.'