Ferry Workers Are Hesitant to Double as Spies

The Border Patrol’s still in search of a few bored deckhands.

John Norby, a traffic attendant for Washington State Ferries in Anacortes, was walking through the terminal's parking lot one April morning when a casually dressed Hispanic man approached him."I'm working undercover for the Border Patrol," Norby says the man told him. "Would you like to share intel?"Boy, had he picked the wrong guy."I didn't tell him to fuck off," Norby says. "But I leaned into him and asked rhetorically, 'Are you soliciting me?'" Norby spun on his heel and headed for his supervisor's office."I told her I was solicited by the Border Patrol to spy on the American people and I told her I was infuriated," he says. "She said, 'Your responsibilities are to the ferry system and to load and unload the boats. The Border Patrol is not your job.'"It's a sensitive subject in the area right now. As Seattle Weekly reported in a cover story two weeks ago, the U.S. Border Patrol set up a checkpoint on Feb. 29 to case passengers arriving in Anacortes on domestic ferry runs from the San Juan Islands, and that checkpoint has become a major sore point among island residents. Joe Giuliano, second-in-command at the Blaine sector of the Border Patrol, maintains that the checkpoint is designed to stop terrorists, not illegal immigrants. Yet in almost four months, the Border Patrol has not arrested a single suspected terrorist, but has detained 49 people who were in the country illegally.Giuliano doesn't deny that he wants assistance. "We do in fact approach not only ferry workers but people in the area—neighbors, businesspeople, and the like—to see if they have noticed specific trends and behaviors since we began the operation," he says.For example, Giuliano says that intelligence gathered from numerous sources indicates that people are parking their cars and walking onto the ferry much more frequently than they did when the checkpoint was first set up. But to say that the agent asked Norby to "spy" is an overstatement, Giuliano says.His officers aren't "undercover," Giuliano says, but "plain-clothed." They make no secret of who they are, and the only reason they're not in uniform is to prevent undue attention being drawn to someone who decides to speak to them, he says. He emphasizes, however, that nobody is obligated to talk to the Border Patrol."Certainly anyone we approach has the right to say, 'No thanks, I'm not in tune with that, have a nice day.' And that's all well and good, because there's no real compulsion or obligation to cooperate with us, although we like to see that happen," Giuliano says.But that's not a part of ferry employees' jobs, says Dennis Conklin, the regional director of Norby's labor group, the Inlandboatmen's Union of the Pacific. Although ferry workers have a constitutional right to work with the Border Patrol, it's not part of their job description, so they shouldn't be doing it while at work, he says.Conklin stops short of saying that a worker would face punishment from the union, but does say that if he found out a worker was helping the Border Patrol, it would be investigated on a case-by-case basis."A new hire might not know that he or she isn't supposed to be working with the Border Patrol," Conklin says. "But a guy like John [Norby] is pretty savvy. He should know. And he did the right thing."Washington State Ferries has a similar stance: "We are obligated to accommodate the Border Patrol as we are with the Coast Guard, however we try to do it in a way that minimizes any adverse impact on our customers," says Joy Goldenberg, a spokesperson for the ferry system. "And when it comes to requests that Border Patrol makes of our employees, our stance is that we want our employees to continue to do their job and their job is to get people safely to and from. We are not asking our employees to do anything above and beyond their normal job."Norby isn't the only person caught unawares by the Border Patrol's solicitation. In a letter dated April 24, Rep. Rick Larsen wrote to David Aguilar, the U.S. Border Patrol chief, stating a number of concerns, one of which was the following:"I have received at least one report that the Border Patrol contacted a Washington State Ferry employee for information even though the Border Patrol has told me that it was not asking WSF employees to participate in these checkpoints in any significant way. What does the Border Patrol believe is the appropriate role for WSF employees when these checkpoints are taking place?"Doug Honig, communications director with the Seattle ACLU, says that as long as there is no formal program by which the Border Patrol recruits ferry employees, there's no constitutional problem. "People know that if they see criminal activity, they can report it. That's very different from trying to enlist people."Neither the ACLU nor the Inlandboatmen's Union has any record of any other ferry workers being approached, but Norby says he's aware of one who works at the Friday Harbor terminal, although he won't name names.Goldenberg says that she can't begin to speculate what action, if any, would be taken against the worker without such a claim being substantiated. Norby says the ferry system will never have to worry about such cooperation from him."I got nothing against the immigrants. They're landscapers, nannies, workers," he says. "These guys [the border patrol] obviously didn't do their research. I was the worst guy [to approach] in the entire fleet."jfroehling@seattleweekly.com

 
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