Border Patrol Finally Addresses Forks City Council

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There's been a lot written about Border Patrol activity in the unlikely locale of Forks, Wash., including a recent SW cover story, but most of it has come from news outlets outside the town made famous by Twilight. In Forks itself, an eerie silence has reigned. That changed last night, when two Border Patrol agents came to speak to the City Council.

The council had requested the meeting, and the parameters were tightly controlled. Members of the audience, many of whom belonged to a human-rights group critical of Border Patrol activity, were not allowed to ask questions; only council members could.

The agents gave what Forks Mayor Bryon Monohon called "very much of a canned speech." He paraphrases: "Drug cartels reach all the way up here. Human trafficking continues to be an issue. [The agents'] role is very much black-and-white. They have a charge from Congress and there's no interpretation involved. They don't engage in racial profiling. They just ask questions."

They offered nothing specific about how they decide whom to question, and whether that decision hinges upon reasonable suspicion, as legally required. Numerous people interviewed by SW for our story suggested that agents are stopping Hispanics at random and demanding to see their papers. Nor did the agents provide statistics that would justify their almost daily presence in Forks, which lies hundreds of miles from the Blaine border crossing. Virtually all the information they provided about the threat to border security was national in scope, according to Manuela Velasquez, one of Forks' first Hispanic residents and a member of the audience last night.

The mostly conservative council didn't probe too deeply, asking only a few general questions, according to Monohon. Still, the mayor, who has been frustrated by the lack of public debate on the issue, judges the meeting a success. "I'm just happy to have it out in the open," he says. The council will hear a different side of the story on Aug. 22, when the Forks Human Rights group addresses the council.

The mayor also notes that recent comments by Border Patrol whistleblower Christian Sanchez "changed the entire dynamic on the peninsula." The Peninsula Daily News has written several articles on Sanchez, who alleges that his Port Angeles office is a "black hole" where bored agents roam the peninsula and rack up needless overtime. And a flood of readers have posted comments to the paper's online site. (See comments to this story, for instance.) Some have defended the Border Patrol; others have attacked its activities as a scary waste of money. In other words, a real debate has started.

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