More than 200 attend forum on Border Patrol in Port Townsend

PORT TOWNSEND — More than 200 people heard stories about interaction with the Border Patrol at a forum last week.

Among those speaking at the forum at the Port Townsend Community Center on Thursday were a Chimacum farmer who felt his workers had been targeted, a Catholic priest who says his congregation is terrified and a Mexican immigrant who said she is in the United States legally, but was afraid to use her last name.

Going only by the name Rosa, the woman began to cry as she spoke about the increased presence of the Border Patrol on the North Olympic Peninsula.

“It hurts me deeply,” she said.

“My family can no longer come to visit me because they are afraid to use the ferry.

“What is going on here is affecting our people, and it pains me to know mothers who know if they get caught will not be able to take care of their kids.”

As part of a buildup of immigration law enforcement on the country’s northern border, Border Patrol agents based in Port Angeles have increased from four to 24 in two years, and the federal Department of Homeland Security has announced plans to build a facility, with a short-term detention area, in Port Angeles in 2009.

This summer, agents operated roadblocks north of Forks and near the Hood Canal Bridge to check identification and have detained suspected illegal immigrants and some people with warrants out for their arrests.

Agents have been reported stopping Olympic bus line buses.

Roger Short of Chimacum said that workers on his farm had been questioned despite having legal papers.

“That’s profiling to me,” he said.

“They have also come to my farm and drove around slowly.

“People are scared, and this is really happening.”

Border Patrol

Not invited to Thursday’s forum were representatives from the Blaine sector of Border Patrol, which patrols the North Olympic Peninsula.

Michael Bermudez, Border Patrol spokesman, said the agency is aware of the community concerns.

“We understand people aren’t accustomed to our increased presence on the Olympic Peninsula,” he said.

“We’re taking into consideration the impact the growth of our agency has on the Olympic Peninsula. We’re having continuous discussions, and we are working on ways to better inform the community about our mission.”

That mission, he has said, is to maintain “operational control of our nation’s borders.”

That includes apprehending terrorists, deterring illegal entrance into the United States, stopping smugglers of drugs and people, developing smart border technology and cutting crime in border communities.

Fewer in church

The Rev. John Topel, priest of St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church, said fewer people are coming to church because of fear.

“The Border Patrol says they will not arrest at churches or schools, but it still has a chilling effect on these places,” he said.

“[Some of their actions] can be seen as persecution against their religion.”

Topel said his congregation was afraid to practice their Catholic traditions.

On Friday, the annual Feast of Guadalupe took place. Part of that tradition includes a processional through town.

The processional took place, but according to Topel, some church members were too scared to take part.

“They are being denied freedom of religion based on the actions of the Border Patrol,” he said.

“These people aren’t terrorists. They have not arrested any terrorists.

“One thing the Border Patrol has done for me has made me ashamed to be an American.”

Topel said the church’s biggest concern was the breaking up of families.

“One of our parishioners who is six months pregnant had her husband deported,” Topel said.

“She is left with no income, and no husband at a crucial part of her life.

“That is the main protest of the Catholic church.”

The Border Patrol was invited to a public forum earlier this year in Chimacum where more than 400 people attended.

At that meeting the agency defended its use of roadblocks, with Bermudez saying that the Border Patrol has been put in place to help protect the country.

“This is prevention through deterrence,” he said.

“I think this is something that everyone needs to think about. It’s an intangible number, and it’s something you cannot count.”

Bermudez also said the Border Patrol hasn’t arrested anyone at churches or schools and doesn’t plan to.

“The Border Patrol is going to continue to protect America by completing its mission,” he said.

Members of the Port Townsend Peace Movement, who organized Thursday’s forum, encouraged residents to lobby their representatives.

Port Townsend Peace Movement can be contacted online at http:// ptforpeace.org/.

Information on the Border Parol can be found at http://cbp.gov/.

________

Reporter Erik Hidle can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at erik.hidle@peninsula dailynews.com.

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