Border Patrol boards Peninsula’s bus line to Seattle

PORT ANGELES — Bus riders can expect Border Patrol agents to board an Olympic Bus Lines bus at least once a week to question riders, according to the president of the private bus company.

The managers of Clallam Transit and Jefferson Transit lines said they had not had specific bus checks.

Bus checks are one element of an increased Border Patrol presence on the North Olympic Peninsula, said Michael Bermudez, Border Patrol spokesman for the Blaine sector, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties.

Bermudez, who works in Blaine, said he did not know which bus lines were being checked by the Port Angeles Border Patrol agents. Nor did he know why they would check one bus line and not another.

“The Border Patrol works off of intelligence,” he said. “We gather intelligence and are reactive with it. That may play a role in why we’re checking buses or operating in certain areas.”

The Border Patrol this year operated several roadblocks, called tactical traffic checkpoints, during which Peninsula motorists were questioned by agents.

The last roadblock was Sept. 9, Bermudez said.

“If a bus were to come though a checkpoint, we could board the bus,” he said.

Bus checks are different from checkpoints. Border Patrol agents do not pull buses over.

“It’s only at a bus stop that we will check them,” Bermudez said.

“We won’t pull the bus over. We board them at stops.”

Olympic Bus Lines president Jack Heckman said that the Border Patrol checks passengers at the Discovery Bay bus stop at least once a week.

Bermudez said that individual bus riders “would be asked many of the same questions asked at a checkpoint.

“All of the questions we ask assist us to determine whether further investigation is needed,” he said.

“One question we will definitely ask about will be about citizenship. It is difficult to say what type of questions will be asked, because questions vary, depending on the agent.”

Bermudez said that, in addition to roadblocks and bus stops, Border Patrol agents can check identification at train stations, airports — any transportation station.

The Dungeness Line of Olympic Bus Lines provides two trips daily from Port Angeles, Sequim, Port Townsend and Kingston to Edmonds and several points in Seattle, including the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, while the county Transit companies operate only on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Frequency increased

Heckman said that the frequency of the stops has increased since the Border Patrol added staff on the Peninsula about a year ago.

“They announce what they’re doing,” Heckman said. “They’re very friendly, they’re not threatening and they’re very good at what they do.”

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

The increased presence in Clallam and Jefferson counties corresponds to a national buildup of immigration agents on the northern border of the United States.

“We’ve been doing bus checks for quite some time,” Bermudez said. “They have always been part of daily operation.”

No Transit stops

Terry Weed, general manager of Clallam Transit, estimated that two or three Clallam Transit buses were stopped at roadblocks in the past year, but none were singled out for a bus check.

“Generally speaking, most, if not all of them, were on Highway 101 between here and Forks,” Weed said.

Clallam Transit protocol calls for drivers to comply with all law enforcement officials, including Border Patrol, Weed said.

Likewise, Jefferson Transit buses have not been targeted for Border Patrol bus checks.

“We have never been stopped,” said David Turissini, Jefferson Transit general manager.

Not all questioned

One rider who was stopped on the Dungeness Line last Sunday said that agents did not question all riders.

Melisa Eyle, a former Peninsula Daily News employee who moved from Port Angeles to Portland in April, was riding from Port Angeles to Seattle when two Border Patrol agents questioned four passengers, including her.

“They target people of color, specifically,” said Eyle, who is Native American.

Eyle said the agents boarded the bus at Fat Smitty’s at Discovery Bay, on Highway 101 at the intersection of State Route 20 to Port Townsend.

She said the agents went straight to the back of the bus to question an Asian man and a Canadian woman.

“They talked to four of us, people of color,” Eyle said.

Bermudez countered Eyle’s claim that the agents interview passengers based on their ethnic heritage

No racial profiling

“Nobody is singled out based on ethnicity; the U.S. Border Patrol does not racially profile,” Bermudez wrote in an e-mail to the Peninsula Daily News.

Eyle said the agents spent no more that 20 minutes on the bus.

“It seemed like it was a really long time, because I was really mad,” Eyle said.

The agents did not ask Eyle for her identification: “I think because of the look on my face,” Eyle said. “I was disgusted. It was actually kind of scary.”

Dungeness Line drivers have alerted riders of the possibility of Border Patrol bus checks, Eyle said. Eyle said she had not previously been through a bus check.

Bermudez said he did not know the number of detentions made on buses in the Peninsula.

Border Patrol roadblocks on U.S. Highway 101 north of Forks and on state Highway 104 near the Hood Canal Bridge this summer netted some 25 arrests.

Most of those arrested were illegal immigrants, Border Patrol agents have said, although some citizens with outstanding arrest warrants also were detained.

After a public forum on Nov. 3, where nearly 400 people crammed into the Chimacum High School auditorium, some riders expressed fears over Border Patrol presence on public buses, Turissini said.

Safe haven policy?

One rider encouraged Jefferson Transit to implement a safe haven policy to quell fears of being hassled by Border Patrol on public buses, Turissini said.

Jefferson Transit is exploring the legal issues behind a safe haven policy while complying with the law.

“We are looking to do what we can do to protect the rights of our passengers and make them feel safe,” Turissini said.

“Where that fine line is, I don’t know.”

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at rob.ollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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