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FORKS — The Forks Human Rights Group, which recently released a four-year analysis of Border Patrol activity on the West End, received 20 hours of free training last April in how to document Border Patrol detentions and arrests — and not get in the way.
The AFSC, a Quaker activist organization dedicated to nonviolence, sent two staff members from its Portland, Ore., office to conduct the training at the Forks Human Rights Group's request, said training program director Christian Sanchez in a telephone interview from the AFSC's San Diego office.
The Forks group and a similar organization in Bellingham are the only Border Patrol-monitoring organizations along the northern border with Canada to receive the training, which has already been employed for about two decades along the country's southern border with Mexico.
“We have been hearing from several communities on the Canadian border that there has been growing tension with the Border Patrol, not only in Washington state but other border states,” Sanchez said.
When the group from Forks first contacted the AFSC, “I had to go on a map to find out where [the city] was.”
The principles of documenting Border Patrol activities are the same on both borders, Sanchez said.
“Almost every single border community in four southern border states uses it to track abuses that are committed and, most importantly, to encourage legislators to change border enforcement laws,” Sanchez said.
New Port Angeles Border Patrol Agent in Charge Jay Cumbow has pledged to look into allegations in the Forks rights group report.
Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News
By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
FORKS — Armed with cellphones and cameras, Forks Human Rights Group members say they documented 162 alleged Border Patrol encounters with mostly Latino West End residents from April 2008 through mid-January.
The immigration-related encounters, which often involved more than one person, left 106 children without one parent — and 13 children with no parent at all — after the parents were arrested for immigration violations, according to the group's two-part Analysis of Border Patrol Activity In/Around Forks, WA, the second part of which was released in mid-January.
[ Read the full two-part report here: http://tinyurl.com/forksrpt ]
The children whose parents were arrested were without at least one parent between almost a day to a few weeks, Forks resident and medical interpreter Lesley Hoare, a group organizer, said last week.
According to Border Patrol policy, children whose parents are arrested are sometimes placed with another family member, Blaine Sector Border Patrol spokesman Jeffrey Jones said.
“In the absence of that, they would go to Family Services,” said Jones, who would not comment on the analysis.
The Blaine Sector includes the Port Angeles Border Patrol station, which covers Clallam and Jefferson counties.
Having just three Border Patrol agents a decade ago, the Port Angeles office now has 42 as of Friday.
Jones referred questions regarding the Forks group's analysis to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol's media office in Baltimore.
In response to questions emailed Wednesday, the media office said Friday that a spokesperson would respond when time allowed.
The process of what the Forks Human Rights Group calls “documenting” begins with members calling and texting each other when they learn of or see a Border Patrol stop in progress.
The group's goal is to make sure the Border Patrol follows the law, Hoare said.
“We are not saying that there is no job or purpose for their agency. But we do feel that they are going beyond their job and acting illegally in stopping people without just cause,” she said.
Hoare said “the overwhelming majority” of those detained or arrested were of Latino origin.
They were stopped while in their homes, working in the woods and driving, according to the analysis.
The analysis included mention of the death of Benjamin Roldan Salinas, 43, a forest worker who died after a May 14, 2010, traffic stop by a Forest Service officer.
A Border Patrol agent was providing translation assistance to a U.S. Forest Service officer when Salinas, an illegal immigrant in the vehicle, ran away, jumped into the nearby Sol Duc River and drowned — an incident that inspired Human Rights Group members to join the organization, they said.
Jones said it is against Border Patrol policy to question someone based on ethnicity.
“We don't racially profile,” he insisted.
In 13 instances cited in the analysis, agents allegedly showed “extreme anger” including yelling, cursing and kicking people's cars, according to the analysis' witness accounts.
There were 12 reports of community members allegedly being harassed while documenting Border Patrol activities.
A letter accompanying the analysis was recently sent to Customs and Border Protection Commissioner David Aguilar — under whose purview the Border Patrol falls.
The letter asked that Aguilar “investigate and put an end to unlawful practices.”
New Port Angeles Border Patrol Agent in Charge Jay Cumbow said Friday he will review the group's analysis — and said its members have every right to document his agents' moves.
“The First Amendment to the Constitution says they can do that,” Cumbow said.
A half-dozen members of the Forks Human Rights Group met recently with a Peninsula Daily News reporter.
“The humiliation of these kids growing up that they are not legally here, that they can get deported at any time . . . ” said preschool teacher Manuela Velasquez.
“It's not . . . the children's fault, and we see it every day,” she said.
“We've had children in foster homes and parents detained. We are going to have a parenting class just talking about that issue and how to prepare the children.”
Some Human Rights Group members would not give their full names for fear of reprisal from Border Patrol agents.
A man whose first name is Rafael said he buys groceries for a friend who is afraid to go to the store.
“It gets to the point that people fear being harassed, followed, things of that nature,” Rafael said.
The group's analysis from October 2010 to mid-January cites 84 encounters, including 54 people who were arrested, 17 who were temporarily detained — meaning they could not leave the site or were taken to the Border Patrol's Port Angeles station — and 42 who were questioned but not detained.
Most of the encounters occurred during traffic stops or in the woods, Hoare said.
Monday: An interview with new Port Angeles Border Patrol Agent in Charge Jay Cumbow.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.