Immigration concerns spark meetings on Peninsula

PORT ANGELES — The message for callers who are put on hold when they phone the Seattle office of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project gives an indication of why the group has scheduled meetings on immigration law this weekend in Forks and Sequim.

“Because of the new presidential administration, we are receiving a high volume of phone calls, so please anticipate a longer-than-usual wait time,” it says.

The meetings have been prompted by uneasiness among some on the North Olympic Peninsula over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, an organizer of the get-togethers sponsored by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project said Thursday.

The sessions are at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Forks Library at 171 S. Forks Ave., and at 2 p.m. Sunday at Sequim High School, 601 N. Sequim Ave.

The main presentations will be in Spanish, with an English speaker available to answer questions from non-Spanish-speaking participants, Immigrant Rights Project Executive Director Jorge Baron said.

“There is so much anxiety and uncertainty about what is happening, so that is the reason we are doing these events,” he said.

“We’ve been doing presentations all around the state because people have been asking us to answer questions that community members have.

“We have definitely heard from a number of people who are anxious about what is going to start happening.”

That includes a Sequim man whose name Baron would not divulge without the person’s permission.

The man was worried about how Trump’s policies, more aggressive than former President Barack Obama’s, “might affect his case,” Baron said.

Baron said concerns have been expressed about Trump’s plans, announced in a Jan. 25 executive order, to hire 5,000 more U.S. Border Patrol agents and 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers nationwide.

Baron also said callers have expressed concerns about Trump’s deportation stance, saying it is more aggressive toward a broader range of illegal immigrants than those of Obama, who, he added, focused more on those who posed a serious threat to community safety.

Baron said that while his group has not studied whether there has been an increase in Border Patrol actions against illegal immigrants on the North Olympic Peninsula, “there are definitely concerns in the community, for sure.”

Jeffrey Jones, spokesman for Border Patrol Blaine Sector — which includes the North Olympic Peninsula — said in an email that the Border Patrol does not provide apprehension statistics and staffing levels for individual Border Patrol stations.

“No changes in Border Patrol operations in Blaine Sector are currently anticipated,” he said in the email.

The Port Angeles Border Patrol Station was staffed with 42 agents as of 2013 with a coverage area that includes Clallam and Jefferson counties. The contingent had grown from four agents in 2006.

The new, $11.9 million Border Patrol station, which can hold 50 agents, was built in 2013.

Forks Human Rights Group organizer Lesley Hoare said last week that nervousness among the West End’s Latino population had lessened in recent years because, she said, Border Patrol agents had stopped providing translation assistance to law enforcement agencies and had appeared to lessen their patrols.

While Hoare said she did not have hard evidence, she said she has heard that the Border Patrol has been more visible lately in Forks. She added that Spanish-speaking residents are more apprehensive about talking to Clallam County sheriff’s deputies and Forks police officers.

“That makes the whole community less safe when victims and witnesses fear local law enforcement,” Hoare said.

“What President Trump is saying and what he wants to do, along with seeing more of the Border Patrol, that has an effect,” she said.

In 2011, when tensions were higher between the Border Patrol and the West End Latino population, members of Forks Human Rights Group mobilized to record Border Patrol stops and compiled detailed reports on the agency’s enforcement activities.

Stops don’t appear to have increased, but members of the group remain vigilant, Hoare said.

“We all have our cameras on us,” she said. “We haven’t had to use them, but we are prepared.”

Libby Palmer, an organizer of Jefferson County Immigrant Rights Advocates, said some of the same fears expressed in Forks exist in Port Townsend.

She said there have been two know-your-rights training sessions for immigrants — in February and March 5 — that each drew 30 to 40 participants.

They learned about their options when they are questioned by Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

“It’s very important for people to know they mainly can remain silent,” Palmer said.

On Monday, the Port Townsend City Council will consider a rewritten resolution that would declare Port Townsend a “welcoming city” but implements many policies seen in sanctuary cities across the county.

The council debated a similar resolution in February during a public forum that drew more than 90 community members. While a few spoke up against the resolution, fearing it would bring more undocumented immigrants to Jefferson County, the majority of the public comments were in favor of the resolution.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland contributed to this report.

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