With the Senate approval of a sweeping immigration overhaul bill, immigrant groups in Washington are uneasy about how a massive increase in border patrol agents could hit heavy on the border line.
“My thing is, these border agents are bored as it is, and you’re going to bring more in? We’re concerned about that,” says Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Communities 2 Communities in Whatcom County.
As it stands now, the immigration bill calls for nearly doubling the number of border patrol agents in the nation to 40,000. Those agents undoubtedly will be focused on the U.S.-Mexican border, but the last 12 years have proven that the Canadian-U.S. border – which Guillen describes as the “most peaceful in the world” – isn’t immune to border security ramp-ups. On the Olympic Peninsula, for example, the number of border patrol agents has increased 10 fold, from 4 to 40, whose focus seems to have fallen not on terrorists but undocumented workers.
In recent years, Homeland Security has been sued for engaging in what appeared to be racial profiling by responding to traffic stops in which there were language barriers between local law enforcement and those pulled over. Rallies were held in Forks after border patrol agents began setting up random road blocks where agents would question drivers about immigration status. Most recently, Guillen’s Communities 2 Communities filed a complaint saying that by handling 911 dispatch services for border towns like Blaine, Homeland Security has rendered the emergency service unusable for undocumented workers.
But for the most part, Guillen says, the agents are left to stand around listening to music and randomly stop and question undocumented workers (without necessarily taking any action against them).
“We are in total support of law enforcement catching criminals and drug runners and gun runners, we don’t want that to stop,” Guillen says. “We just feel it’s going way overboard, what’s going on on this border.”
Sen. Patty Murray attempted to address some concerns with a number of proposed amendments to the bill. One would have barred federal agents from shackling pregnant women who are detained, which didn’t make it into the final bill. Another amendment pares back the so-called “100 mile rule,” which allows federal agents stop vehicles subjectively within 100 miles of any border (which allows for the checkpoints in Forks). That amendment did pass, and would make the mile-limit 25 miles.
Guillen says her group appreciates Murray’s efforts and supports the amendment language, but for one concern: Will it give the over-staffed federal agencies on the border even less to do?