SEATTLE - U.S. Border Patrol agents will no longer serve as interpreters when local law enforcement agencies request language help, according to a new decree issued by the Department of Homeland Security.
The new guidance said agents should refer such requests to private services often used by government agencies.
Seeking language help is a common practice among local law enforcement agencies in Washington state. If a person is pulled over and can speak only Spanish, the U.S. Border Patrol is often called.
However, immigration advocates complain that Border Patrol agents ask people questions about immigration and in some cases arrest immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally.
"The concept of language access should be without people being questioned about their immigration status," said Jorge Baron, executive director of the Seattle-based Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, a legal aid organization.
Immigrants have grown apprehensive about calling local law enforcement agencies if they know the Border Patrol is going to respond, he said.
The new Border Patrol guidance should help, even though it leaves agents some room for decision-making, he said.
The Border Patrol said Thursday it is trying to use its resources efficiently.