Border Patrol immigration checkpoints like one approaching Hood Canal Bridge to be more common on Peninsula, agency says
By Erik Hidle and Tom Callis, Peninsula Daily News
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A checkpoint was set up Friday morning on state Highway 104 one mile west of the Hood Canal Bridge.
"Today we implemented a checkpoint there between approximately 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.," Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Michael Bermudez Bermudez said on Friday.
"These types of check points have proven to be successful in the past, and we are starting to utilize more checkpoints.
"We are expecting to begin using them frequently in and around that area, and in places in Jefferson and Clallam counties."
He declined to say where or when the checkpoints would be.
Border Patrol Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Joseph Guiliano said checkpoints on U.S. Highway 101 are planned north of Forks and south of Discovery Bay between now and mid-September.
Guiliano said agents detained six illegal immigrants at a checkpoint eight miles north of Forks about six months ago eight miles north of Forks.
In March 2007, agents detained seven people at a checkpoint near Forks.
Bermudez said the temporary checkpoints' primary objectives are to apprehend terrorists and illegal immigrants.
They also are used in conjunction with local law enforcement to arrest felons, seize drugs and weapons and to deter illegal activity, he added.
At Friday's checkpoint near the bridge, seven illegal immigrants and one person with a felony warrant were taken into custody, and $2,500 worth of illegally harvested salal was confiscated, Bermudez said.
"Border Patrol checkpoints are a critical tool to protect against illegal activity," he said.
"We are going to continue to put them in areas where people have to pass through from point A to point B."
The checkpoint required vehicles heading eastbound on state Highway 104 to stop briefly while agents performed visual inspections of vehicles and asked drivers questions.
If agents believed more investigation was required, they sent the vehicle to a secondary lane.
Otherwise, drivers were permitted to travel on.
"The supervisor today said traffic was flowing along pretty good through the checkpoint," Bermudez said on Friday.
"I don't believe that at any time did traffic come to standstill."
Waited in line
Jewel and Harry Atwell of Port Townsend said they did have to wait in a line while they passed through the checkpoint on Friday morning.
"We were approaching the bridge when we had to stop in a line," Jewel Atwell said.
"We assumed the bridge was open, but then we saw a big sign that said there were U.S. officers ahead."
Atwell said the agents made them stop and asked them questions, while men on each side of their car looked in at their belongings.
Atwell said she felt the Border Patrol agents had violated their civil liberties and were racially profiling people.
"We asked them what they were doing, and the man said they were looking for someone," she said.
"I told them that they were racially profiling us."
Both the Atwells are Caucasian. Jewel Atwell said that by letting them go through so easily, the agents were practicing racial profiling.
Bermudez said he disagreed with Atwell's view.
"We arrested numerous people today, and one of the people was white," he said.
"We have the authority to do these checkpoints in numerous places and we will."
Bermudez said he understands the frustration of waiting in line, but that the job the Border Patrol is doing is important.
"It's not just illegal immigration we are focusing on because we are reducing crime when we take a felon off the street," Bermudez said.
"Our agents are highly skilled and highly trained."
Bermudez also said he wasn't surprised to hear some complaints.
"You won't see a Border Patrol agent telling doctors or lawyers how to do their jobs," he said.
"But you will see people trying to tell us how to do our job, even though we're trained to do it."
Reporter Erik Hidle can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or email@example.com.
Last modified: August 23. 2008 9:00PM