Forks Man Disappears Into Sol Duc River After Border Patrol Shows Up to Interpret

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It's been a tough couple of weeks for the families and friends of two men who have disappeared into local rivers. This morning, the King County Sheriff's Office announced that it has suspended its search for the Bothell man who jumped into the Snoqualmie River while trying to rescue his dog. Meanwhile, a Forks man remains missing after being chased by the U.S. Border Patrol and plunging into the Sol Duc River. It seems like sad news on both fronts, but the Forks incident carries special weight for immigrant advocates.

According to local press accounts, Benjamin Roldan Salinas was first stopped by the U.S. Forest Service on the afternoon of Saturday, May 14. His Dodge Durango SUV was parked on Highway 101, 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 in the Forks area, Sgt. Brian King of the Clallam County Sheriff's Department tells SW. You need a permit to pick or transport salal, however, and King says he assumes the Forest Service stopped Salinas and a female companion on suspicion that they didn't have one. (Forest Service spokesperson Donna Nemeth says she is not yet authorized to release a statement on the incident.)

The Forest Service needed an interpreter to talk with Salinas and his companion. And 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.

Salinas, who according to one account can't swim, took off running in the direction of the river; his companion was taken into custody by the Border Patrol on suspicion of an immigration violation.

Some locals are seeing this incident in the context of what they say is a stepped-up presence by the Border Patrol. Mayor Bryon Monohon told the Peninsula Daily News that he was troubled by the "fear and panic" immigration authorities are creating.

Reached by SW, Border Patrol spokesperson Richard Sinks couldn't immediately say whether the agency has increased its presence in Forks or elsewhere in the Blaine sector that the town is part of. But he did say that it's now routine for many government agencies--including the state patrol and the police departments of Lynden, Blaine, and Sumas--to use the Border Patrol for interpreting.

Border Patrol agents, who are required to speak Spanish, are just trying to be helpful, Sinks says. But if they arrive on the scene and suspect that someone's an illegal alien, "they have a duty to ask," he says. (The agency, however, makes an exception for victims or witnesses.)

"It seems to be a majority of the time" that interpretation thereby leads to immigration enforcement, Sinks says.

What's more, the Border Patrol's Blaine sector also runs the 911 dispatch for Linden, Blaine, and Sumas. Sink describes the arrangement as a "cost cut" to those departments 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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