PORT ANGELES — The North Olympic Peninsula’s sprawling U.S. Border Patrol station, built seven years ago to house a projected increase in agents, has seen its numbers shrink and 25 percent of its staff periodically sent to the nation’s southern border.
The Coast Guard, too, is sending reservists from the Pacific Northwest to help process the flood of immigrants, a spokesman said Friday.
The Border Patrol’s 19,000-square-foot, fenced compound at 110 S. Penn St. lies 2 miles east of downtown Port Angeles.
The agents’ patrol area includes Clallam and Jefferson counties.
It was built in 2012, a $12 million project to accommodate 50 agents and “projected increases in staff,” according to an environmental impact study.
The price tag included $9.8 million in major renovations to the Eagles Aerie 483 Lodge building and for developing the 3.4-acre site, and $2.1 million to the Eagles Aerie for the land and existing improvements.
The Border Patrol center also houses the headquarters of the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team.
Border Patrol staffing totalled four agents in 2006. They worked in undersized quarters in downtown Port Angeles — in what’s now the Richard B. Anderson Federal Building.
The roster increased to 25 agents by August 2011.
The station had 42 personnel when ribbon-cutting ceremonies marked the headquarters’ opening Sept. 14, 2012.
As of last week, their numbers had reverted to near the August 2011 level.
“There’s 28 of us here in Port Angeles,” Border Patrol Agent-in-Charge Corey Lindsay said Thursday.
The head of the agency’s Port Angeles facility gave a 40-minute presentation to about two dozen Kiwanis Club of Port Angeles lunch meeting members.
Lindsay said a quarter of his agents serve 30-day rotation duty at any giving time, assisting their southern-border colleagues to enforce immigration laws and process tens of thousands of asylum seekers.
“Twenty-five percent of my workforce is down there right now,” he said. “We’re going to continue to do so until until somehow the situation resolves itself. What we’re dealing with down there is frankly a humanitarian crisis.”
The Border Patrol is on track to make a million apprehensions along the southern border by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, which would double the last high mark of 470,000 in in fiscal year 2014, Lindsay said.
From Oct. 1, 2018, to May 31, there were already 593,000 apprehensions, he said.
“We still have our responsibility to the northern border here, but clearly the southern border crisis is a national priority.”
The Coast Guard is sending personnel as well, Lindsay said.
Lt. Russ Tippets, 13th District Coast Guard spokesman, said Friday that 125 Coast Guard reservists were called up about two weeks ago from Sector Puget Sound, including from Clallam and Jefferson counties, to be sent to the southern border.
Tippets said the first Coast Guard contingent from the Pacific Northwest to address the influx of immigrants will be primarily engaged in humanitarian support in a call-up originating from the Department of Homeland Security.
Lindsay, agent-in-charge since November 2017, said in a later interview that Border Patrol personnel have been helping out on the southern border since November.
The 25 percent of agents assisting in the effort is “where we’re at today,” he said. “It is honestly determined by the operational needs at the southern border at that specific location, at that time.”
Increased presence of Border Patrol agents between 2006-2010 sparked protests over such practices as the agency setting up checkpoints on U.S. Highway 101 to apprehend illegal immigrants and controversy over construction of the new headquarters to house more agents.
Lindsay said agents are focused on getting a handle on cross-border maritime traffic in partnership with the Coast Guard, Canadian authorities, state and local law enforcement agencies and tribal law enforcement officials to interdict smuggling and other illegal activities.
“Detection capability is the foundation of my plan,” he said. “Where are the deviations? I seek those deviations. That’s where I fund my limited resources. That’s my plan.”
Lindsay did not have specific figures on apprehensions of people illegally entering the U.S. but said there has been a influx of East Indians into the Blaine sector.
He said staffing levels nationwide have gone down in the Border Patrol, which has partnered with a professional bull riders association to attract more recruits.
“Generally, the Border Patrol was a lot bigger in 2012,” he said.
Lindsay referred questions about staffing levels to the Border Patrol’s regional Blaine sector headquarters, which coordinates agency activities in Washington, Oregon and Alaska.
Peninsula Daily News asked Blaine Sector Special Operations Supervisor Canyon Sweet if staffing decreases at the Port Angeles station are due to increased needs at the southern border, a diminished need for agents at the northern border with Canada, or a combination of factors.
Sweet responded with the following email Friday:
“Securing and maintaining effective control of the northern border requires a different mixture of facilities, operations, infrastructure, and technology resources from those appropriate to the southern and coastal borders because the operating environment and the nature of threats faced on the northern border are different,” he said.
“In general, the northern border is subjected to a significantly lower number of illegal incursions than the southern border; however, attempts at illegal immigration and smuggling regularly occur.
“CBP has deployed a multi-layered, risk-based approach to enhance the security of our borders while facilitating the lawful flow of people and goods entering the United States.
“This layered approach to security reduces our reliance on any single point or program that could be compromised and includes close coordination with [Department of Homeland Security] partner agencies, with other U.S. interagency partners, and with our Canadian counterparts.
“One layer of the Border Patrol’s approach to border security is based on risk.
“Therefore, the Border Patrol deploys the appropriate amount of manpower, technology, resources and infrastructure to an area based on the level of risk in that area.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].