Jefferson County sheriff sets rules for work with Border Patrol

By Erik Hidle and Paige Dickerson
Peninsula Daily News

After a request for translation services during a routine traffic stop on Oct. 1 led to an arrest by the U.S. Border Patrol, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office says that deputies do not do the job of the federal agents, even though the agencies work together.

"The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office will not be calling on Border Patrol officers for [anything] other than appropriate assistance for translation services or emergency backup," said Sheriff Mike Brasfield in a written statement this week.

"We are not immigration officers."

Port Townsend Police Sgt. Ed Green agreed.

"They are law enforcement, but they work under a federal constitution, and we work under a state constitution, so our jobs are different," he said.

"We use the Border Patrol as a resource for translation," Jefferson County Undersheriff Tony Hernandez said.

"We recently had a traffic stop and the guy didn't speak English and the officer requested Border Patrol to come in and act as a translator."

Hernandez said that after the deputy completed the traffic stop, the Border Patrol agent interviewed the driver, determined there was a federal immigration violation and detained the person.

Said Brasfield: "Sgt. [Andy] Pernsteiner made a routine traffic stop as noted in the incident. We do not have any trained law enforcement personnel that speak Spanish.

"Knowing that there was a multilingual Border Patrol officer on duty, they were contacted for assistance and provided translation services."

Brasfield said that, in a meeting with high level Border Patrol representatives last week, he made it clear that regional law enforcement agencies would not participate in Border Patrol roadblocks nor in immigration law enforcement that is clearly federal in nature.

"However, we will utilize any trained law enforcement language resources, from whatever police agency that may be in the vicinity, if and when needed by our deputies in the field," Brasfield said.

"Requests for translation assistance is not intended, and will not be used, as a pretext to investigate possible violation of federal immigration laws.

Border Patrol

The number of Border Patrol agents active throughout the North Olympic Peninsula has grown from four stationed in Port Angeles only two years ago to 24 now.

The beefed up Border Patrol presence on the Peninsula is part of a national strategy to increase protection on the country's northern border.

Out of the Border Patrol's 16,371 agents nationwide, 1,470 have been deployed on the Canadian border from the North Olympic Peninsula to Maine, and that force is expected to grow to 2,200 by 2010.

Michael Bermudez, spokesman for the Border Patrol, said the groups have a common mission -- to create safer communities -- that are carried out in different ways.

The Border Patrol's primary job is to achieve "operational control' of the nation's borders through a five-fold strategy, Bermudez has said.

That strategy is to apprehend terrorists and their weapons, deter illegal entrance to the country, stop smugglers of drugs and people, develop smart border technology and cut crime in border communities.

Border Patrol roadblocks on U.S. Highway 101 north of Forks and on state Highway 104 near the Hood Canal Bridge have netted 25 arrests since they were stepped up about a month ago.

Most of those arrested were illegal immigrants, Border Patrol agents have said.

Illegal immigrants are not a major focus for local law enforcement, Benedict said.

City and county police forces are not, in fact, not given the authority to enforce immigration law, he added, although agencies can contact federal authorities if they choose to do so after discovering a person is not legally in the country.

Port Townsend

Green said he felt much the same as the sheriff about Border Patrol activities.

"I'm ambivalent to their presence," Green said. "We are a border city, so it is expected that they would be around."

Green said that, while Port Townsend police would not enforce immigration laws, they too would use the Border Patrol as a resource.

"We will use whatever resources we have available to do our job," he said. "That resource could be Border Patrol or anyone we have that speaks Spanish.

"The thing with a traffic infraction is, you want to get it over with as quickly as possible.

"In that situation, I want the translation so I can deal with my job specifically, but we're not trying to facilitate anything with them or any other entity."

Green said he doesn't believe the Port Townsend police have used a translator from Border Patrol yet, but did note that they assisted in a downtown man hunt on Sept. 9 for people believed to have been involved in a Port Angeles robbery who abandoned their vehicle in Port Townsend and fled.

"They were able to hold a line on the perimeter of the search area for us and that did help us out," Green said.

"We want to keep the public safe. That is our ultimate goal and we will use the resources available to that end."

Clallam County

"Our specific missions are separate," said Port Angeles Police Chief Terry Gallagher.

The influx of Border Patrol agents active throughout the Peninsula has created a stronger law enforcement presence, Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said.

"Whether I like it or not, they are put on our Peninsula and they are a huge asset that I am going to use," he said.

"We're getting better all the time. We are working really hard on improving our radio communications so we can back each other up effectively."

Benedict, Gallagher and Maris Turner, spokeswoman for the Sequim Police Department, all said that they would contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- or ICE, a separate branch from the Border Patrol under the U.S. Homeland Security Department -- if they suspect people arrested for crimes to also be in the country illegally, or if their identity is not clear.

"I want to make it clear that we do not ascertain, nor do we care about, the citizenship of our victims or of citizens that we come into contact with," Benedict said.

Benedict is exploring getting certification from the federal government to help enforce immigration laws, he said.

He emphasized that wouldn't change the department's primary mission of keeping citizens safe.

The Border Patrol also has an agent on the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team, which is a network of local law enforcement officers who work together to investigate and eliminate illegal drug dealing, Benedict said.

"The Sheriff's Office and drug task force, with the help of the Coast Guard, has done a pretty darn good at sealing off the border," Benedict said.

"I would say, looking forward, that [Border Patrol] increase in staff would help if they are anticipating trouble in the future."

In addition to aiding law enforcement in areas such as drug enforcement at the borders, the Border Patrol agents can also provide services such as translating when the agencies need help.

"All of our agents are trained to speak Spanish," Bermudez said.

"So we can help with that."

The Sequim Police Department's Turner said that the Border Patrol has served as a resource in times of need.

"For instance they have been helpful when we need translation or assistance at crime scenes," she said.

Bermudez said cooperating with local law enforcement is one of the core essentials for Border Patrol.

"Of course we see that interagency exchange that would make us more effective," Bermudez said.

"By combing the agencies, we are trying to reduce crime in that area, to improve the quality of life for the citizens.

"When we meet that objective, it leads to helping us meet our goal of operational control of nation's border."

"In order for the border patrol to be 100 percent effective, we work with other agencies."

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Reporter Erik Hidle can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at erik.hidle@peninsuladailynews.com

Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at paige.dickerson@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 10. 2008 4:46AM
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