MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Eight Hispanic hunters who were accused of being illegal residents during last year's deer season have filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources of racially profiling them.
The hunters, four of whom are legal residents while the other four are working to gain legal status, say wardens asked them to show a second form of identification but didn't make other white and Asian hunters do the same, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
"We feel like this is racist," said Mayolo Garcia, a 36-year-old U.S. citizen who lives in Crystal.
A total of 11 Twin Cities men were hunting in the Wildlife Management Area south of Lake Mille Lacs last year when conservation officers asked to see their hunting licenses and another form of identification. When one produced a card issued by the Mexican government, a warden called immigration enforcement agents, who interviewed all 11 men by phone and determined seven should be jailed as suspected illegal residents.
Two were eventually forced to leave the country.
The men said they watched the same wardens check the hunting licenses of other hunters but didn't demand photo IDs of them. When a Hispanic hunter asked a warden about the difference the officer said, "None of your business," the lawsuit alleges.
Attorneys for the eight men say their clients were subjected to discrimination by being held to a different standard just because they're Hispanic.
Different law enforcement agencies around the state have varying policies regarding asking about an individual's immigration status. Police in Minneapolis and St. Paul are prohibited from questioning people about their status during routine stops and encounters, while DNR officials are asked to consider "the totality of information," said Ken Soring, the DNR's chief conservation officer.
For example, wardens will occasionally check IDs to make sure hunters aren't using someone else's hunting license, Soring said.
"There is not a black-and-white standard," he said.
In a report on the incident, DNR officer Brent Speldrich wrote that Angel Garcia Muñoz produced a nonresident deer license and a Mexican ID card. Speldrich called Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which eventually had seven hunters taken to jail.
All the men had hunting licenses, but Speldrich's report says eight people were ticketed, seven for having filled out a "false license application."
Mark Cangemi, a retired ICE agent, said if one person presents a Mexican ID card, it's reasonable that conservation officers might have "heightened suspicion" of the others.
Information from: Star Tribune, www.startribune.com