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Hung Han was helping his elderly parents pack up their produce stand at the Port Angeles farmers market on the afternoon of Saturday, September 3 when he was approached, seemingly at random, by a pair of Border Patrol agents. The slender 37-year-old became "visibly nervous," as the agents later noted in their report, when they asked him for proof of citizenship. He replied in broken English that all he had was a Washington ID. A crowd of onlookers gaped as Han, wearing slacks and a button-down dress shirt, was then handcuffed and taken away in the back of a Border Patrol SUV. He spent the next 45 days locked up in the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
As the Peninsula Daily News later reported, the crowd at the farmers market was "shocked" by Han's apparently unprovoked arrest. It was the reportedly the first time the Border Patrol ever visited the twice-weekly market, and Han was the only person they questioned.
But according to documents obtained by Seattle Weekly, Han was targeted because an anonymous "concerned citizen" called to report an illegal immigrant from Korea "hanging around" the farmers market. Han's family has sold sushi and vegetables from their garden at the market for the past three years, and their son routinely lends a hand, a family friend said after Han's court hearing on Tuesday in Tacoma.
Though they had no proof that Han was actually undocumented -- save for his poor command of English and nervous mannerisms -- the agents detained Han and the Department of Homeland Security set his bail at $60,000. He has no criminal history, his mother is a legal permanent resident, and his father and sister are U.S. citizens. His only previous run-in with the law was a speeding ticket.
Image Source Hung Han gets cuffed by the Border Patrol in Port Angeles.
A spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) did not return a request for comment on Han's case.
Han's arrest and lengthy detention are the latest in a recent series of controversial actions by the Border Patrol outpost on the Olympic Peninsula.The agency is building a new $5.7 million headquarters on the outskirts of Port Angeles, and some residents -- including the mayor -- have complained about the agency's aggressive tactics and alleged racial profiling. In May, a 42-year-man drowned while attempting to run away from the Border Patrol in nearby Forks, and three months later whistleblower agent Christian Sanchez told reporters that the area's agents have "no purpose, no mission," and are wasting taxpayer dollars.
On Tuesday, an immigration judge reduced Han's bond amount to $1,500 after hearing the evidence in the case and testimony from his attorney that Han helps care for his ailing father and has "strong ties" in the community, where he has lived for more than eight years. His parents paid the money, and Han was released later that afternoon with orders to appear at another hearing that has yet to be scheduled.
Han was represented by Jorge Barón, director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. Barón believes the case is further proof that many of the record number of immigrants detained and deported over the past year are not threats to public safety, despite the government's claims to the contrary.
"ICE is saying we're focusing our resources on people who are dangers to the community," Barón says. "That's certainly not the case, at least not in our region. What you hear coming out of Washington, D.C., is not the reality -- or at a least it's not a fully accurate portrait -- of what's happening on the ground."
Update: Jeffrey Jones, spokesman for the Blaine sector of the Border Patrol, emailed a response to Seattle Weekly's question's about Han's case. Here's what he had to say:
It is a regular practice for Border Patrol Agents to investigate reports from the general public regarding possible illegal aliens and illegal activity.
When an agent makes contact with a subject in the field, the agent may detain the subject based on a reasonable suspicion of illegal alienage. Reasonable suspicion is based on the articulable facts of the encounter.
Acting nervous around Border Patrol agents is not grounds for a detention, but can be one of the articulable facts that leads to a reasonable suspicion of illegal alienage or illegal activity.