By Jacob Sullum
Last week Bryan Gonzalez, who worked as a U.S. Border Patrol agent in New Mexico from October 2007 until September 2009, sued his former supervisor for firing him because of opinions he expressed about the war on drugs.
In April 2009, according to the complaint (PDF), Gonzalez remarked to a fellow agent, Shawn Montoya, during a break that "legalization of drugs would end the drug war and related violence in Mexico." He added that "the drug problems in America were due to American demand for drugs, supplied by Mexico." He mentioned Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of former law enforcement officials who oppose the war on drugs. The complaint says Gonzalez and Montoya also discussed illegal immigration. When Montoya asked "why Mexicans are always trying to enter the United States and steal jobs," Gonzalez "replied that the reason Mexicans came to the U.S. was the lack of jobs in Mexico."
Montoya reported this conversation, triggering an internal investigation that resulted in Gonzalez's dismissal shortly before the end of his two-year probationary period. Although his work evaluations until that point had all been excellent, the termination letter said he held "personal views that were contrary to the core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication, and esprit de corps." The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, argues that the dismissal violated Gonzalez's First Amendment rights, since his remarks were not "made pursuant to his official duties," were not disruptive, and "did not interfere with the Defendant's interest in efficiency."
One of LEAP's speakers, Jonathan Wender, successfully sued the Mountlake Terrace, Washington, police department after being dismissed under similar circumstances. "In January 2009," LEAP reports, "the department settled, reinstating Wender and giving him back pay and full benefits."