In the eyes of immigration law, Benjamin Nunez Marquez, whose case has been documented in several Sounder articles, is just another undocumented person about to be deported. To scores of people on Orcas Island, however, Ben is a neighbor and trusted friend of some 15 years’ standing. A campaign is underway to plead with our political delegation for intervention on his behalf. Let us not forget that back in 2008, Ben was also a hero.
As it happened, Ben was a favorite of Orcas Islander Natalie Pinkerton White. Natalie was adopted into the Pinkerton family, founders of the famous detective agency dating from the ‘30s. She was a rugged island character, as tough and as stubborn as islanders can be. Stricken with a stroke, Natalie, 80, refused to be flown off-island; she insisted instead that she be driven by her trusted friend, Ben Nunez.
Unfortunately for Natalie, Ben was stopped while driving off the ferry in Anacortes, caught up in an immigration/border patrol sweep. Despite Ben’s pleas for Natalie’s sake, she was left to suffer while Ben was grilled – an unconscionable delay.
Eventually Ben succeeded in getting Natalie to the hospital, and she returned to Orcas. When Ben lost his deportation hearing, however, Natalie slipped into a decline and died, a death by grief and guilt over what happened to Ben, or so many of her friends said.
Meanwhile, Benjamin Nunez Marquez holds a unique perch on Orcas in the form of a one-of-a-kind job. Ben arrived on Orcas as a young, unskilled, but very determined 22-year-old. He found work with West Sound Lumber as a helper for the sawyer. He eventually took over the critical sawyer position when the previous sawyer left because the job became too much for him.
West Sound Lumber produces huge beams and specialty wood products in the careful and artistic way that rarely exists in the lumber business anymore. Ben’s work is found in fine homes and public projects, such as the 45-foot wood beam on the public stage on the Eastsound green.
Ben would probably have been deported some time ago, except that Jack and Jan Helsell, who own West Sound Lumber, fought hard for Ben. The Helsells love Ben like a son. They would have adopted him into their own family, if that were possible. As required by law, they also sought someone who could fill Ben’s job, all to no avail. In an era where people are desperate for work, it seems that nobody is available to risk relocating to our remote island to assume a job with an uncertain future.
As an Orcas resident from the 1960s, my husband, Willis “Bill” Williams hired Ben on many occasions. We know that Ben Nunez Marquez is the type of person this country ought to be seeking out, not tossing out.
The end result of our twisted immigration policy in this case is this: the hapless death of a beloved Orcas resident, the deportation of a skilled worker in a unique business, and now the potential loss of West Sound Lumber, a beloved island institution as well.
Time is running out in this case; we have no other option than to plead for help from our political delegation. We humbly request your immediate intervention in this matter in the form of a call to all the members of our political delegation.