CONNELL, Wash.-- Many Hispanic immigrants often fear law enforcement because they're afraid of being deported. But a Washington State Patrol program is reaching out to the Hispanic community to teach people with limited English about the rules of the road and bridge the gap between the two groups.
El Protector is a Kennewick based Washington State Patrol trooper working to educate Hispanics that law enforcement is there to keep the public safe. He travels to more than one hundred presentations and safety fairs a year to get the message out that if they know the laws, then they will stay out of trouble and stay safe.
"El Protector. A little translation there. The Protector," says Oscar Garcia.
Trooper Oscar Garcia leads the El Protector program. He communicates with Hispanics in Spanish to bridge the language barrier that often prevents them from learning local laws. Garcia says that law enforcement in an immigrant's home country often serves a different function than here.
He lets them know safety is the top priority here, not deportation or violence.
"We want to reassure them that they don't have to fear us. We're there for their safety and we're out there trying to do a service and that's all we're trying to do. I think that's what we've accomplished out of this program is they're more knowledgeable and less fearful," says Garcia.
Tuesday he answered workers questions at a Lamb Weston facility in Connell. Adeoina Garcia, an Hispanic employee there, says it's helping those who can't speak English well.
"They don't know that much English so when you have somebody explain it to them in Spanish it's more understanding to them. It makes a lot of difference," says Adeoina Garcia.
By talking one on one, Hispanics are gaining a better understanding of the law enforcement relationship here in the U.S.
"They get to see first hand that we treat people with respect. As long as they treat us back with respect, we're going to be the same way," says Trooper Garcia.
The program was started to reduce hit and run accidents that are often caused by immigrants fearing deportation.
El Protector teaches them the penalties are worse if they leave the scene and it doesn't mean they have to leave the country.
"Numbers themselves show that the program is successful. People are behaving out there and it's making it a safer community for us," says Garcia.