By SCOTT RASMUSSEN
County Administrator Pete Rose contacted the Sounder with the following information: “I would like to communicate some corrections to the guest opinion the Islands Sounder published in the May 14 edition regarding the letter to our federal delegation. The letter has not yet been formally approved and sent. When the two councils met on April 22 and discussed the issue, it was agreed that the Mayor and Council Chair would draft a letter. The letter published by your newspaper was the draft that was to be put in front of each council for adoption.
“The County Council scheduled it for May 13 and the Town Council scheduled it for May 15. When it was considered by the County Council, it resulted in a motion to adopt that was defeated. During the session, some adjustments were made to the text, and five of the six members decided to sign it.
“The changes were communicated to the Town Council, which formally approved the amended version. Councilmember Carrie Brooks opposed it and did not sign. The County Council has scheduled its final action on the letter on May 20.”
Elected officials of San Juan County and the town of Friday Harbor have joined forces to create a strong front in objecting to the citizenship spot checks by the U.S. Border Patrol at the Anacortes ferry terminal.
On Tuesday, May 13, five members of the County Council endorsed a letter calling for significant changes in the way the Border Patrol conducts its inspections. Councilman Rich Peterson, North San Juan, objected to the local foray into federal law enforcement procedures and did not sign on. As is standard procedure, the signature block for Council Member Peterson’s signature is stamped “Opposed.”
If endorsed by the county council on May 20, (after being endorsed by Friday Harbor on May 16), the letter would be sent to the state’s congressional delegation, Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Rep. Rick Larsen, along with a request for assistance in bringing about the changes listed below;
• Ensure that no actions of the Border Patrol impact negatively our local and regional economy;
• that medical and other emergencies are accommodated immediately;
• that there are equal and reasonable levels of security checks for everyone passing the checkpoint.
Penned by council Chairman Howie Rosenfeld and Friday Harbor Mayor David Jones, the letter was ratified by the town council at its Thursday night session.
The revisions, however, proved instrumental in generating support from councilmen Gene Knapp of Orcas Island and Bob Myhr of Lopez. At the behest of each, the council agreed to remove requests that inspections be reduced or eliminated during tourist season, and that Border Patrol receive thorough training in courteous behavior.
No fewer than 28 people, mostly islanders, have been removed from ferries originating on domestic routes in the islands and arrested for alleged immigration violations since the periodic inspections began at the start of the year, according to the Border Patrol. The intent of the inspections, according to Joe Giuiliano, deputy chief of the patrol’s northwest region, is preventing enemies of the U.S. – terrorists – from using the islands and San Juan County’s historically porous border as a route onto the mainland. However, Giuliano said earlier that the Border Patrol is tasked with also enforcing immigration and drug laws, and that agents won’t ignore possible violations during inspections at Anacortes.
In addition to an outpouring of criticism from islanders over the human toll and issues of civil rights, council members have cited the potential negative impact on the local tourist-based economy in raising objections about the unprecedented citizenship inspections. The health of the local economy largely depends on the 600,000 or so people who visit the islands each year, according to elected officials of both town and county.
“These security checks may deter travelers who do not want to risk delays, or who feel intimidated by the militaristic appearance of the guards, or who have concerns about their civil liberties,” the letter states.
Rosenfeld said local businesses deserve support from their elected officials in trying to reduce the negative impacts which the checkpoints have already had and that are likely to continue as the tourist season hits full-stride.
“The whole reason for this is to act on behalf of our tourist-based economy and our local business community,” Rosenfeld said. “I think they expect us to act on this.”