Plenty for Border Patrol to do on North Olympic Peninsula, agent tells Port Angeles group
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Station supervising Agent Jose Romero addresses the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce on Monday. -- Photo by Chris Tucker/Peninsula Daily News

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

Expansion under review

The Border Patrol is building a $5.7 million headquarters with room for up to 50 agents in Port Angeles.

George Behan, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, said the Democratic congressman's staffers want to review with John C. Bates, chief of the Blaine sector, the staffing and mission of the agency in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

“Very obviously, there are concerns on the Peninsula,” Behan told the Peninsula Daily News in an interview last week.

“We want to get an update on the current activities and future plans, including the concern that the Border Patrol office in the area could be overstaffed.

“We obviously would be asking [the Border Patrol's] purposes and how that fits into the mission.”

Behan said the meeting would be held by Aug 31. It will not include Dicks.

Behan expects staff members for U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray to attend the meeting.

The location for the meeting, which is being arranged by Dicks' staff, has not been set, but a rough agenda has, Behan said.

Border Patrol agents often assist law enforcement on traffic stops with backup and translation help.

Agents were assisting the U.S. Forest Service during a traffic stop May 14 near Forks when 43-year-old Benjamin Roldan Salinas ran away and jumped into the Sol Duc River.

The West End Hispanic community engaged in a massive search for Roldan Salinas before his body was discovered four miles downstream June 4.

Border Patrol agents also have stopped drivers and boarded public buses on the Peninsula to ask for identification in searches for illegal immigrants.

“We see a lot of anger in the community about some of these activities, and we don't know enough about the purposes and the plans [of the Border Patrol], and thus we need to have more information,” Behan said.

Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — A U.S. Border Patrol supervising agent told a Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce audience Monday that there is plenty for his agents to do on the North Olympic Peninsula — despite another agent's assertion to the contrary.

“There's no real reason for anyone to be bored up here,” Port Angeles Border Patrol station supervisor Agent Jose Romero told the luncheon group of about 100 at the Port Angeles CrabHouse restaurant — without mentioning the name of the other agent, Christian Sanchez.

During his 45-minute presentation, Romero said the agency focuses on domestic terrorism, narcotics trafficking and contraband in a coverage area that includes Clallam and Jefferson counties.

Sanchez came forward last month at a gathering sponsored by the Advisory Committee on Transparency, an open-government group in Washington, D.C., claiming that the Port Angeles Border Patrol office was a “black hole” with “no mission, no purpose” for the more than 40 agents — 10 times the number it had in 2006 — who patrol Clallam and Jefferson counties.

He alleged that he and his fellow agents in Port Angeles had little relevant work to perform and sometimes passed time by simply driving around the Peninsula, what agents call the “Baja 500.”

He called the situation “a betrayal of taxpayers . . . It's shameful for me to admit that we, as men, have no purpose [in Port Angeles].

“I could not stop denying it to myself. There was no work to be done.”

He said when he complained he was ostracized by certain colleagues and supervisors, and his family was placed under surveillance.

Sanchez has since dropped out of sight, and one of his attorneys said the agent he does not want to be interviewed “because of the treacherous, isolated environment in which Mr. Sanchez is working.”

Border Patrol officials have said they will investigate Sanchez's allegations and have refused to comment on his job status.

Staff members from the Peninsula's congressional delegation plan to meet later this month with the U.S. Border Patrol's regional supervisor to review the staffing and mission of the agency in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

Romero would not comment specifically about Sanchez — in interview with the Peninsula Daily News before his Monday presentation to the Port Angeles chamber, Romero said only that the agent “is employed by the U.S. Border Patrol.”

When asked by a member of the audience about the claim that “there's not much to do but drive around and make work,” he urged audience members to talk directly to the green-clad Border Patrol agents themselves.

“Ask them what they do and how they like it and how much work they do is [boring],” Romero said.

“We're happy at the job we do.”

Romero added: “We focus our energies about 100 miles inland,” explaining that Border Patrol agents go beyond the Peninsula and are in Aberdeen and Shelton as well as Port Townsend, Sequim and Forks “pretty much every day.”

The Border Patrol's Blaine Sector, which includes the Port Angeles station, covers Alaska, Oregon and the western half of Washington, including 183 coastal miles.

“We are the only law enforcement agency charged with protecting the whole country by patrolling the streets every day,” Romero added.

“We are it. We focus on how to protect all communities at once.”

Romero devoted much of his 45-minute presentation to immigration issues, adding that an immigration violation can be charged as a felony.

Border Patrol checkpoints are “part of what we do,” he added. “We look for ways to determine who is coming into this country illegally and who hasn't.”

Questioning someone's immigration status comes partly from a “gut feeling” the agent might have about the person and often begins by “just going up to someone and saying, ‘Hi, how are you?'” Romero said.

“There is a very short window to make the determination to go to the next level,” he said.

That next level could include asking for a name and date of birth, which agents run through a database.

Until about eight years ago, the Border Patrol focused mainly on the nation's southern border with Mexico

Now that focus includes a close watch on the northern border the United States shares with Canada.

At 3,145 miles, it's the longest “unguarded border,” as the Border Patrol puts it, in the world.

“The northern border has now become the focal point,” Romero said. “It's extremely porous.”

Canada has not been the easiest partner to work with in monitoring the shared boundary despite the existence of what Romero said were “75 known factions of some kind of terrorist group” in that country.

“It's not as good as I would like,” Romero said of “cooperation” from Canada. “We're working hard to get that relationship going.”

Agents stationed in Port Angeles also assist local law enforcement, including the Port Angeles Police Department and Clallam County Sheriff's Department.

“It's a good working relationship,” said Sheriff Bill Benedict, who was in the audience.

Port Angeles Police Chief Terry Gallagher agreed.

But another audience member noted that her husband, while fishing, was checked out in one day by the Coast Guard, state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Sheriff's Department and Border Patrol.

“That seems ridiculous if all you're doing is fishing,” she said.

Romero said the Border Patrol has ridden along with other law enforcement to be present if an immigration issue arises but noted that interagency communication is made more difficult by different communications systems.

“That's one of the things we need to work on, to get on the same boat,” he said.

Romero joined Border Patrol Field Operations Supervisor Rafael Cano in giving a similar presentation to the Forks City Council last week.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 16. 2011 7:42AM
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