Far From Home

Why is Border Patrol patrolling so far from the border?

Two weeks ago, a traffic stop in Forks—the home of chaste teen vampires and a town closer in proximity to Kent than Canada—illuminated a previously dark corner of the ongoing immigration debate. It all began when a U.S. Forest Service agent noticed something suspicious: a Dodge Durango parked on the side of Highway 101. "Suspicious" because the SUV was stopped near a popular spot for picking salal, a plant often used in floral arrangements. Salal harvesting is a common occupation among the many Hispanics who live near Forks, says Sgt. Brian King of the Clallam County Sheriff's Department. You need a permit to pick or transport it, however, and King says he assumes the Forest Service stopped the Durango's driver, Benjamin Roldan Salinas, and a female companion because he thought they didn't have one. (Forest Service spokesperson Donna Nemeth says she is not yet authorized to release a statement on the incident.) Because neither Salinas nor his companion spoke English, the Forest Service needed an interpreter. So who did it call? Spanish-speaking locals like those King says his Sheriff's Department uses? An agency offering interpreter services? No, the Forest Service called the Border Patrol. Sometime after reinforcements arrived, Salinas took off. Chased on foot by agents, he was last seen plunging into the waters of the nearby Sol Duc River. He hasn't been seen since, and finding him alive seems unlikely—according to one news report, Salinas can't swim. Some locals are seeing this incident in the context of what they say is a stepped-up presence by Border Patrol agents. Mayor Bryon Monohon, speaking to the Peninsula Daily News, went so far as to say that he was troubled by the "fear and panic" immigration authorities are creating. Reached by Seattle Weekly, Border Patrol spokesperson Richard Sinks couldn't immediately say whether the agency has increased its presence in Forks, which it patrols as part of a larger sector that begins in Blaine and encompasses much of the Puget Sound. But he did say that it's now routine for many government agencies—including the state patrol and the closer-to-Canada-checkpoint police departments of Linden and Sumas—to use the Border Patrol for interpreting. Border Patrol agents, who are required to speak Spanish, are just trying to be helpful, says Sinks. But if they arrive on the scene and suspect that someone's an illegal alien, "they have a duty to ask," he says. "It seems to be a majority of the time" that that interpretation then leads to immigration enforcement. What's more, the Border Patrol sector in question also runs the 911 dispatch for Linden, Blaine, and Sumas. Sink describes the arrangement as a way for those departments to help cut costs and another effort by the Border Patrol to help out its law enforcement colleagues. But when a person calling for urgent help gets the Border Patrol, it's no wonder that some people are feeling the omnipresence of immigration enforcement.

 
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