The US Border Patrol is being sued by a former agent who was fired in 2009 after expressing opinions in support of drug legalization and of sympathy for illegal immigrants to a coworker. In a lawsuit filed in US district court for the Western District of Texas in El Paso last week, former agent Bryan Gonzalez, 26, alleges he was fired for exercising his First Amendment rights to free speech.
"Firing a public servant because of their political opinions is an egregious violation of the First Amendment," the ACLU-NM said in a press release. "We cannot require nor should we expect uniformity of thought within our law enforcement institutions. Purging the ranks of government employees who fail 'ideological purity' tests is about as un-American as it gets."
According to the ACLU-NM, things went south for Gonzalez after a conversation with a coworker: "Gonzalez pulled his vehicle up next to a fellow CBP agent who was in the same vicinity," the group said. "In the course of a casual discussion concerning the drug-related violence in Mexico, Gonzales remarked that he believed that legalization of drugs would be the most effective way to end the violence. He also related to the other agent that, as a former dual US-Mexican citizen, he understood the economic factors that drive migrants to cross the border without documentation to seek work," the group explained.
"Word of Gonzalez’s opinions on these matters quickly spread to his supervisor, who informed the Joint Intake Command in Washington, DC. Internal Affairs launched an investigation soon after, and the Border Patrol terminated Gonzalez in October 2009," the ACLU-NM noted.
In his termination letter, the agency wrote that Gonzalez held "personal views that were contrary to the core characteristics of Border Patrol agents, which are patriotism, dedication, and esprit de corps."
"I was terminated not because my service was inadequate, but because I hold certain opinions that are shared by millions of my fellow Americans," said Gonzalez. "I am no less patriotic or dedicated to excellence in my work because I respectfully disagree with some of our current border enforcement policies. It was wrong for the US Border Patrol to retaliate against me for exercising my free speech rights guaranteed by the very Constitution I swore to uphold."
Gonzalez is gaining support from at least one law enforcement group. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). LEAP issued a statement Tuesday saying it stood by Gonzalez.
"There's no doubt that the so-called 'war on drugs' is a gigantic failure and that it causes violence, hurts our economy and forces dedicated law enforcers to risk their lives in the line of fire for a lost cause," said Terry Nelson, a former US Border Patrol agent who is now a board member for LEAP. "But whether you think we should legalize drugs or not, you have to support the right of brave law enforcers like Bryan Gonzalez to exercise the First Amendment and share their views on policies that impact them on a daily basis."
Gonzalez and the ACLU-NM are asking the court to find that the Border Patrol violated his First Amendment free speech rights and are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.