(UPDATED COVERAGE, 3:15 p.m.) Racist and offensive comments on immigration issues posted on the Wayne County (N.Y.) Star’s Web site have sparked a federal investigation — because the most offensive posts came from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The Star removed some of the comments posted to the June 16 story about federal border agents detaining several Mexican immigrants in New York.
Comments removed included racist remarks, a well as attacks on apple growers in the region, claiming they harbor illegal workers, according to a July New York Times article. There were also remarks about the story’s author, Louise Hoffman Broach.
In an effort to block commenters who “made other personal, venomous attacks,” the paper reported, it traced the IP addresses of the offensive commenters. Three of the posts were from Border Patrol computers at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“There is no question the Border Patrol has a role, with 5,000 migrant workers here at the height of harvest season,” a follow-up Star article said. “But the Border Patrol, like every other law enforcement agency, must operate within certain parameters. Those parameters don’t include spewing racism over the Internet or attempting to harass or intimidate the media.”
Richard Healy, the Wayne County District Attorney, turned the Star’s reports over to the U.S. Attorney’s office for an investigation, the Star article reported. The investigation was not confirmed by federal officials mid-July, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office does not have to make its outcome public, the Star reported.
Bob Norris, a Butler, N.Y., fruit farmer, was taking visiting relatives of one of his employees for a boat ride around Sodus Point when the boat was stopped because it had too many passengers, the original Star article reported. The visitors were detained overnight until Norris and his employee bailed them out. Most had been in the U.S. for 18 years and were waiting on pending legal citizenship, according to the article.
Norris told the Star, “They treated it like a drug raid.”
One, however, was not released because he was in the U.S. illegally—for the second time, A.J. Price, a Border Patrol spokesman, told the Star. He was an employee of Norris.
The article spurred a heated debate about Border Patrol methods in enforcing immigration laws, with growers claiming that racial profiling and unjust detentions from U.S. agents have scared workers away from the area, the Times reported.
"Homeland Security has clearly stated that they are going after the worst of the worst, and that doesn't seem to be the policy that's taking place in upstate New York," said Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, Fishers. "There seems to be a disconnect between what the secretary is saying and what the people in the field are doing."
Allen said New York growers feel as though they're getting an extraordinarily high amount of pressure in the area, and that there are too many Border Patrol agents circulating in the region.
"They have an office in Oswego. They have an office in Rochester and Buffalo. And, they have a detention center in Batavia," Allen said.
The short term fix is to figure out why a high amount of pressure is taking place in New York, Allen said.
National Editor Tom Karst contributed to this article.