Dear Senators Murray, Cantwell, and Representative Larsen,
On April 22, 2008, the local officials of the Town of Friday Harbor and San Juan County met in joint session and discussed the increasingly frequent spot checks by the U. S. Border Patrol during local, non-international sailings. Both Councils were closely aligned in their concerns, which we would like to bring to your attention.
As a community of islands, we are entirely dependent upon the Washington State Ferry system for the transportation of goods and services, as well as all the activities that must be dealt with daily.
One concern we have with these Border Patrol checks is the lack of provision for anyone travelling for necessary medical attention, or for anyone dealing with an emergency while going through a checkpoint, an experience that has caused delays of an hour or more.
We are also concerned about economic issues. The year-round population of San Juan County is 16,000 people, but between late spring and fall we receive nearly 600,000 visitors, a tourist population critical to the economy of San Juan County and neighboring communities. 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.
As well, many foreign residents and visitors in our communities are being subjected to higher levels of scrutiny, which some of our citizens view as harassment or racial profiling.
San Juan County has been receiving an abundance of negative publicity regarding this subject, including a recent front-page article in the Seattle Times and a story on National Public Radio. While we fully support the Border Patrol in their lawful mission, we urgently and respectfully ask your assistance in securing the following relief:
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.
We thank you for your consideration of our concerns, and assure you that we will work cooperatively to find a balance between necessary security measures and important quality of life issues.
(Signed by Council Chair Howie Rosenfeld and members Kevin Ranker, Alan Lichter, Gene Knapp and Bob Myhr.)
The above letter was approved, but not acted upon, by the County Council on May 13. It was ratified by the Friday Harbor Town Council on May 15. The County Council was expected to act upon the letter on May 20.