Border Patrol sets dangerous precedent with checkpoints

The Peninsula Daily News reports of recent U.S. Border Patrol highway checkpoints on the North Olympic Peninsula near Forks, Discovery Bay and the Hood Canal Bridge. The Journal of the San Juans reports Border Patrol ferry checkpoints on domestic-only ferry runs from San Juan Island to Anacortes since February. An additional checkpoint location will soon be added on state Highway 20 in Skagit Valley. Also there are reports of recent Border Patrol spot checks at the Agate Pass Bridge (outside the Clearwater Casino), plus ICE Fugitive Ops teams at Wal-Mart in Poulsbo.

Checkpoints have been set up to “look for illegal immigrants, criminals and terrorists,” and have resulted in roadside arrests and detentions of individuals who are deemed “suspicious.” Deputy Chief Border Patrol Agent Joseph Giuliano, as quoted in the Daily News, wouldn’t say how the Border Patrol determines suspicion, only that its process is “scientifically established.” In reality, the “scientific” method nets individuals primarily of Mexican or Central American origin.

If unable to establish proper citizenship and/or valid immigration status on the spot, these individuals may be sent to the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma for days, weeks or years prior to being deported – often without representation. The facility is operated by a publicly held corporation, and conditions have been cited as violating national detention standards and international human rights laws.

The Olympic Peninsula roadblock checks have resulted so far in 25 arrests for immigration violations, including Edgar Ayala, who graduated with honors from Forks High School and lived in the area since infancy. Many immigrants in our communities are now living in fear of losing their freedom, their loved ones, friends, caregivers, employees/employers, and their means of support for family members, etc. The Border Patrol says the stops are annoying but necessary to keep the country safe.

Aside from obvious legal and moral issues, it is hard to imagine that these operations make us safer or are worth the cost. The Border Patrol is part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Its mission is to detect and prevent the illegal entry of aliens into the United States – not with screening unprepared residents and visitors far from a border crossing.

In the current climate of deficits, cutbacks and financial bailouts, DHS continues to receive a generous amount of taxpayer dollars to “secure our borders.” The 2008 DHS budget increased to $8.9 billion ($886 million in 2007), including $27 million to add 250 additional Custom & Border Patrol Agents to its force of 16,000. You wonder whether roadside immigration checks well outside border communities are truly warranted or if DHS needs to keep these new hires busy.

Surprise enforcement operations are occurring at a time when our “legal” immigration system is overwhelmed and in need of reform. Obtaining legal immigration status is expensive and complicated. Fees for immigration benefit-seekers tripled in 2007 while backlogs of adjudications increased dramatically. Often, immigration officials fail to correctly implement complicated immigration laws and mistakes are made, such as sending U.S. citizens to the NWDC.

There is little funding appropriated to “fix” our legal immigration system and maintain our American principles as a nation of immigrants. Instead, our government is focused on raids, road checks and expanding detention facilities to show it is addressing a politically charged “illegal immigration” issue. These policies are undemocratic, bad for our economy and out of step with an inevitable future era of global cooperation. Violators of our civil immigration laws are treated as criminals and their cases dehumanized, while the more difficult issue of intelligent immigration reform remains ignored.

A “Stop the Checkpoints Committee” was formed this summer in Port Angeles by residents of five nearby communities. It represents family members of the detained/deported, Native American tribal members, small business owners, students, teachers, civil libertarians, peace activists and concerned neighbors.

In Forks, 90 residents formed picket lines downtown to protest the deportations. On Sept. 20, a rally and march was held in Port Townsend to stop the escalation of Border Patrol roadblocks, raids and detentions in the region. The Border Patrol has indicated it will increase the use of these checkpoints until a court order declares them illegal.

If this concerns you, please speak out. For information about your legal rights at Border Patrol stops, as well as other pro bono immigration assistance go to: www.nwirp.org/ServicesProvided/Resources.aspx.

Jacqueline A. Wood is an immigration attorney on Bainbridge Island.

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