BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Activists are calling for change at the Bellingham Police Department after a teenage undocumented immigrant pulled over for a traffic violation ended up in the hands of Border Patrol agents.
Fifteen-year-old Alfredo “Lelo” Juarez first told officers he was 18 and that he did not have a driver's license.
What happened next prompted activists to file a formal complaint with the BPD alleging racial profiling.
More than a dozen activists filled the police station’s lobby on Friday as Lelo filed his complaint against the department.
“Lelo has the courage to say, ‘I want something to be done about this. This wasn’t right,'" said Rosalinda Guillen, of the organization Community to Community Development.
In June, Belligham officers stopped Lelo for driving the wrong way down a one-way street. He told officers he was 18 and unlicensed.
“I thought I was going to get away with it, but that was a bad mistake that I made,” Lelo said at a news conference Friday.
Officers couldn’t verify Lelo’s identity so they called U.S. Border Patrol agents for help.
When they couldn’t prove his identity, agents arrested him and took the teenager to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma where more than 1,000 illegal immigrants face possible deportation.
“Just being pulled over was scary,” Lelo said. “The Border Patrol came over; I was sure I was going to get deported.”
When officials discovered Lelo’s true age, they released him to his parents.
“If he had told us that he was 15 years old and that he didn’t have a driver's license, our direction would have been 180 [degrees],” said Bob Vander Yacht, of the Bellingham Police Department. "We’d have reached out to parent or guardian.”
Investigators said they will reopen Lelo’s case to take a closer look at the incident.
Activists allege racial profiling is rife in the Bellingham police ranks, saying Lelo’s case is only one of many.
“We wonder how many more people and victims of racial profiling there are,” said Junga Subedar, of the Whatcom Civil Rights Project.
John and Lori Laigaie showed up to Lelo’s news conference that was held outside BPD headquarters.
The Laigaies believe officers are doing the right thing, adding that immigrants should enter America legally.
“If you’re an illegal alien, you should be turned over the Homeland Security to be deported,” John said.
Police said their officer did not violate department policy when they contacted Border Patrol, but the department plans to re-evaluate how and when it asks for federal immigration help in the future.
The officer who made the traffic stop was wearing a body camera at the time; Q13 Fox News has requested a copy of the file.