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Use of customs agents for traffic stop interpretation raises concerns

By Staff

Police should handle their own language interpretation services rather than calling in border officers for assistance, Brampton lawyer-linguist Suzanne Deliscar tells

A recent story by Michigan-based M Live Media reported that local state police were using customs agents to assist with translation issues during traffic stops in the area around Detroit.

“I can see why it would raise concern, especially in the current climate in the U.S. regarding illegal immigration,” says Deliscar, principal of Deliscar Professional Corporation, a law firm that offers services in English, French and Spanish. “There needs to be a division between the two functions because a traffic stop has absolutely nothing to do with customs and border protection."

Deliscar says non-English speakers may feel intimidated by the involvement of border agents and the prospect that a traffic stop could turn into an investigation of a person’s immigration status.

“Although state police are not supposed to be involved in immigration enforcement activities, mixing the two forces in this way could give the impression that they are working together,” she says. “It makes more sense to use another department or a neutral party.”

The news outlet reports that state police stood by the practice following a complaint by the American Civil Liberties Union.

A state police spokesman told the website that its members do have access to a 24-hour telephone translation service, but that the force prefers on-site translation by border agents because it is “always more effective and quicker."

"Troopers are instructed to utilize whatever means necessary to conduct the traffic stop as quickly and safely as possible, in order to not detain an individual any longer than necessary," he added. "Because our goal is to get the driver back on their way as quickly as possible, it would be absurd for us not to utilize the services of other officers who are nearby and available to assist with translation."

State police policy allows troopers who believe a person is in the U.S. illegally to contact Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents. However, when his officers need interpretation services, they contact border agents, who "have a different enforcement role," the spokesperson explained.

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