After a turbulent 2011, the Border Patrol's outpost on the Olympic Peninsula is under fire again. On Friday, community members form Forks penned a letter to Janet Napolitano, asking the Department of Homeland Security secretary to "investigate and put an end to unlawful practices," by Border Patrol agents in the town made famous by Twilight.
Though nearly 200 miles from the nearest land border crossing, and 60 miles away from the closest point of entry from Canada, the Border Patrol has stepped up its presence in Forks and surrounding communities in recent years. As detailed last year by Seattle Weekly reporter Nina Shapiro in her feature story "Nowhere Near the Border Patrol," their way of doing things has rankled some locals.
The Forks Human Rights Group, a coalition of several dozen community members from the soggy town of 3,500, compiled a list of encounters with Border Patrol agents. They also attempted to keep track of arrests, detentions, and other activities that the secretive government agency attempts to keep under wraps. According to the group, from October 2010 to mid-January 2012, 54 community members were detained by the Border Patrol in Forks.
The alleged misdeeds outlined in Hoare's letter include agents "yelling, cursing and kicking people's cars" during traffic stops, using "alien smuggling and harboring" as a pretext to interrogate citizens, trespassing on private property, and threatening to arrest people if they are found with undocumented immigrants in their vehicles.
A spokesman for the Border Patrol's Blaine Sector said he was unaware of any letter sent to Napolitano, and did not respond to a subsequent inquiry after receiving the letter via e-mail.
If the Forks Human Rights Group's complaints sound familiar, it's because they are similar to the ones aired by whistleblower agent Christian Sanchez last August. Stationed in Port Angeles, Sanchez went public with his view that the Border Patrol on the Olympic Peninsula has "no purpose, no mission," and agents frequently give citizens the business to stave off their boredom and justify their existence.
Prior to the controversy stirred up by Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant named Benjamin Roldan Salinas died trying to flea from Border Patrol agents in the Olympic National Forest.
Hoare says her group previously lodged a formal complaints against the Border Patrol with the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and received no response. She hopes the letter to Napolitano will serve as a wake up call.
"We're not saying the Border Patrol has to disappear," says Hoare, a 36-year-old medical interpreter and substitute teacher. "What we want them to do is follow the law. We want them to be held accountable for their actions."