Ferry terminal checks concern and frighten islanders

  • Tue Jun 17th, 2008 8:29pm
  • News

By MARGIE DOYLE

Editor

On March 12, the Orcas Island man who’d been apprehended in a recent Border Patrol check at Anacortes for lack of documentation was released from detention in Tacoma after his bail, reduced from $15,000 to $3,000 was posted by his employer, a local contractor. He faces a court date in April to determine his case. The contractor is seeking legal assistance to be able to help his employee.

In another incident, a woman who was sent from the Orcas Medical Center to a mainland hospital, was prevented from doing so when the driver of the vehicle in which she was traveling was stopped at a “border” check and detained.

In what may also be related to the border checks, the English as a Second Language (ESL) class at the Orcas Public Library, which had over 30 students before the Border Patrol checks at the Anacortes ferry terminal earlier in March, has lost nearly two-thirds of its attendees, Library Director Phil Heikkinen said last week.

Another aspect of the problems of those immigrants seeking to obtain U.S. citizenship was brought out by an island registered alien with a work visa, legally entitling him to work here, who reported that if registered aliens apply for Social Security benefits (which they have been paying into) they can be deported, merely for applying for the benefits.

County Council member Kevin Ranker said that his concerns about the ferry checkpoints were twofold: members of the community disappear without notice, and the impact on the county’s economy. “I understand the Border Patrol has to do its job,” Ranker says, although he decries the fear and intimidation resulting from checks such as were conducted at the Anacortes terminal. He cites precedent for such operations in California, but says “It’s never been done before on our state routes.

“It’s not done for any other reason than because it’s convenient, and I don’t believe there’s any other justification for it.”

Ranker questions why border checks don’t occur with domestic flights at Sea-Tac. He advises that islanders contact the state’s congressional delegation in Washington D.C.

An Orcas Island business owner said that people who have been stopped as they travel from one county to the next are not “foreign travelers trying to avoid border patrol agents,” but state residents who need to go through Anacortes to reach mainland destinations.

Liz Illg, Friday Harbor council member also involved in immigration advocacy, said that islanders are concerned about their American rights in these checkpoints, and that the American Civil Liberties Union will sponsor a forum on immigration and civil liberties on April 11, on San Juan Island.

Experienced immigration lawyers Margaret O’Donnell and Karol Brown will be in Friday Harbor from 4 to 5 p.m. on that date to share their legal expertise on immigration issues facing the community. “Immigration 101” at the San Juan County District Court Room is free and open to the public.

Sage MacLeod, Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) Coordinator for San Juan County Health and Community Services said, “This is a very frustrating situation. We’re taking families that are working in our communities and contributing to our communities and placing them in great financial peril.”

Illg says that the people caught in these raids, “are people who help other people on the islands.”

One of Illg’s main concerns is the impact of the immigration raids on children. “These are the kids whose noses we’ve wiped, whose sports games we’ve watched, and who are very much a part of our community. I’m concerned about the impact of fear on their well-being.”

MacLeod echoed Illg’s apprehensions, saying, “The bottom line here is that children are being effected by this immigration crack down. Children of immigrant parents, especially sick children, cannot freely travel to the mainland to get the medical services they need because of the fear of being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. This is unconscionable to me.”

Steve Garrison, an Orcas Islander and advocate for Hispanic islanders, said that recent changes to the immigration laws have

resulted in, among other things, the reduction of green cards issued to immigrant workers by over half, or to 66,000 nationally. This is having a dramatic and negative result on farm harvesting, among other industries. “Be prepared to see the cost of your domestic fresh produce go up about 50 percent this summer,” Garrison says. As for the immigrants taking away local jobs, “the state of Texas is consistently one of the highest in terms of annual increases in both GDP and jobs for the past several decades, despite also having the highest immigration rates.”

“We’ve created an impossible situation from everyone’s point of view,” said Garrison: “For the immigrants, obviously; for immigration enforcement officers who are given the impossible task of meeting the requirements and justification of the

$4.7 billion poured into the ICE section of Homeland Security; and to the communities who have not bought into the idea of tearing families apart and sending undocumented but long-term resident immigrants back to their country of origin.”

ICE has increased seven-fold their administrative deportations in the last several years but cannot make a serious numerical impact on the 11 million illegals in the country, Garrison says. Since their operations are driven by federal mandate, and not the needs of the local community, they override or ignore local law enforcement.

The result, Garrison says, is “a divorce between community and federal law enforcement, diminished morale of local law enforcement, and a breakdown of the democratic process. Congress in lockjaw is not helping, either.

“Because we’re a small community we can view this on all sides, and we need to have a measured response from everyone – the community, enforcement, and government – to meet community needs.”