Two sheriffs, two attitudes toward Border Patrol-linked grant

By Erik Hidle
Peninsula Daily News

Clallam County has put in for federal funds administered by the U.S. Border Patrol while Jefferson County is saying no thanks.

A national grant opportunity has made it clear what side of the fence both Jefferson Sheriff Mike Brasfield and Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict are on when it comes to the Border Patrol on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Brasfield is declining the opportunity to apply for federal monies being offered from the Department of Homeland Security through Border Patrol, saying he cannot agree to the terms presented in Operation Stonegarden -- a federal funding program for agencies in border states -- and therefore, will not apply.

Brasfield said that he feels the program would require his agency to work too closely with Border Patrol agents, and that language in the application is inappropriate for the scope of the local Sheriff's Office.

Meanwhile, Benedict said he has no problem with the language in the document, and didn't see the federal grant changing the status quo in Clallam county in any way.

Chief John Bates with the Border Patrol Blaine Sector has made it clear that whether or not the sheriffs want to apply for federal funds through Stonegarden, he will continue to work with them.

Operation Stonegarden, which is administered by the Border Patrol, exists through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

It is intended to enhance law enforcement preparedness and operational readiness along the borders of the United States, according to the FEMA Web site at www.fema.gov.

Brasfield declined to participate in the program in January after reviewing the documents given to him by Border Patrol.

"They had a part in there that said illegal aliens were here to engage in illegal activities, and another section that identified us as friendly forces," Brasfield said.

"There's nothing particularly onerous in the grant itself, and it would have been a great deal to get some money.

"If the language in their grant was similar to other law enforcement grants, then it would not be an issue to me."

In a letter to Bates on Jan. 12, Brasfield said that, "the inclusion of language describing illegal aliens as "criminal aliens" that "are drawn here by criminal activities" coupled with the requirement that participating agencies (described as "Friendly Forces") agree to detain illegal aliens and turn them over to the Border Patrol, makes the overall document unacceptable."

"It is also unfortunate that taxpayer dollars provided by our elected representatives, distributed through Homeland Security with the intent to enhance local law enforcement, are held hostage to the very narrow operational agenda of your agency in regards to non-criminal status of aliens."

Bates responded on Jan. 19, saying that the operation was simply to provide additional "eyes and ears" in support of border security operations.

"Participating agencies conduct their normal operations and notify the U.S. Border Patrol when an illegal or suspected illegal incursion occurs," Bates said.

Benedict said that is already the practice in Clallam County, and he has put in for federal funds through Stonegarden.

"I don't agree that local law enforcement should be turning a blind eye to people breaking immigration laws," Benedict said.

"We're not going to go out and actively investigate it, but we are going to support agencies who do investigate it."

Benedict gave the example: If he booked an illegal immigrant into the Clallam County jail, he would work with Border Patrol agents.

"I want to know if this individual has committed crimes in other countries, so I don't put him back into the community," he said.

"I don't have any problem with those terms [used in the application].

"There is no quid pro quo here.

"The fact is that this money doesn't require us to go out and enforce immigration law."

Benedict said he is hoping to receive funds to put computer terminals in police vehicles.

"I don't know if we're going to get anything we're requesting," Benedict said.

"We're requesting stuff on a local level and not for Border Patrol use."

The grant is competitive, and those being awarded funds will be notified later this year.

Benedict said regardless of whether the money comes through, he would maintain his department's stance on working with Border Patrol.

In Bates' letter to Brasfield, he stressed that he did not view Brasfield's unwillingness to participate in Stonegarden as signs of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office acting as an unfriendly force.

"I have the highest regard for you and the men and women of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office," Bates wrote.

"Regardless of Jefferson County's participation in "Operation Stonegarden," the Blaine Border Patrol Sector looks forward to continuing our excellent relationship, as your agency is one of our most important law enforcement partners on the Olympic Peninsula."

Brasfield agreed that the agencies would continue to work together on some level.

"I don't believe there is [a rift]," Brasfield said.

"I've had several professional conversations with the Border Patrol and Chief Bates and it's clear we have separate missions.

"I stand ready to assist them and they stand ready to assist us, but we operate under different rules."

At a public forum about the Border Patrol in Chimacum in Nov. 2008, Brasfield said the Sheriff's Office would work with Border Patrol but would not become involved in Border Patrol arrests or enforcement activities.

"We are a local law enforcement agency," he said then. "We're not federal agents, and we don't have the time, the men or the resources to [enforce federal law]."

The Border Patrol conducted roadblocks near Forks and the Hood Canal Bridge last summer, and have boarded Olympic Bus Lines buses looking for illegal immigrants.

As part of a build-up of immigration law enforcement on the country's northern border, Border Patrol agents based in Port Angeles have increased from four to 24 during the last two years, and the federal Department of Homeland Security has announced plans to build a facility with a short-term detention area in Port Angeles in 2009.

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

Last modified: February 06. 2009 4:45AM
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