A federal warning to beware of campers in national forests who eat tortillas, drink Tecate beer and play Spanish music because they could be armed marijuana growers is racial profiling, an advocate for Hispanic rights said Friday.
The warnings were issued Wednesday by the U.S. Forest Service, which is investigating how much marijuana is being illegally cultivated in Colorado's national forests following the recent discovery of more than 14,000 plants in Pike National Forest.
"That's discriminatory, and it puts Hispanic campers in danger," said Polly Baca, co-chairwoman of the Colorado Latino Forum.
A spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service had no immediate response to Baca's comments.
Forest Service officials said they believe illegal immigrants are being brought to Colorado by Latin American drug cartels for mass cultivation of marijuana.
Michael Skinner, a law enforcement officer with the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado, said warning signs of possible drug trafficking include "tortilla packaging, beer cans, Spam, Tuna, Tecate beer cans," and campers who play Spanish music. He said the warning includes people speaking Spanish.
The warning signs were included in a slide presentation put together for drug agents in Colorado and the public.
Skinner said this may or may not represent criminal activity, but are indicators and he urged any campers who encounter long-term campers meeting the profile to "hike out quickly" and call police.
"Our goal is to not allow organization using foreign nationals or any other persons involved in illegal drug production to take over our national forests," the department warned.
Baca said there is no evidence that Hispanics are the only people involved in large-scale drug operations and said she was "appalled that anyone, especially someone from the federal government, would say something like that."
Marvink Correa, spokesman for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said federal officials are painting an unfair stereotype of Hispanics.
"When I go camping, I'll be sure to play nothing but Bruce Springsteen," he said.
The recent discovery was the second large seizure this summer in Colorado. Two people were arrested, but federal officials refused to provide details, saying the investigation is continuing.
In July, authorities spent more than 24 hours clearing another marijuana growing operation in Pike National Forest. They say the plants' street value was about $2.5 million, but no arrests were made.