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Checkpoints will continue, Border Patrol agent says

The controversial immigration checkpoints along U.S. Highway 101 and at the Hood Canal bridge will continue and other points of entry such as small airports and marinas also will receive closer inspection, said Joseph Giuliano, deputy chief patrol agent for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The agency's Air and Marine Division also will begin operating out of Port Angeles once a location is found for the equipment and personnel, he said.

Giuliano and Michael Bermudez, a public affairs officer, traveled to Port Angeles Oct. 9 for a press conference prompted by controversy over the highway checkpoints that included a Sept. 20 protest rally in front of the Richard B. Anderson Federal Building at 139 W. First St. in Port Angeles.

"There will continue to be checkpoints. Things are going to be happening," said Giuliano, who is deputy chief of Customs and Border Protection's Blaine Sector.

The sector is one of 20 nationwide and covers the 19 counties of western Washington plus all of Oregon and Alaska from stations in Port Angeles, Blaine, Bellingham and Lynden, which will be moving to Sumas.

Three checkpoints are authorized on the North Olympic Peninsula.

The first, which was used in March 2007 and again in August, is at milepost 198 on U.S. Highway 101 between Forks and Beaver. The second is near Quilcene at milepost 291 on Highway 101 and the third is on state Route 104 at milepost 12, just west of the Hood Canal bridge.

The checkpoints now can be set up within 100 miles of a national border but Bermudez said that might be changing to "a reasonable determination," which would be made by the chief of that sector based upon yet-to-be-determined criteria.

Giuliano said if that happens, the determination can't be "arbitrary and capricious." The area for a checkpoint must be somewhere with access to a national border and be somewhere that acts as a chokepoint or funnel for people crossing the border, he said.

The checkpoint must be clearly marked as a Border Patrol checkpoint and they also must consider public safety, such as checking with the state Department of Transportation regarding traffic patterns, Giuliano said.

Expanding the range for the immigration checkpoints would be one of "policy and practice," not law, Giuliano said.

The change would be in the codes of federal regulation, which are written by federal agencies and then published in the Federal Register, he said.

People stopped at checkpoints must establish to the agent's satisfaction that they are citizens or resident aliens, he said.

Officers can detain people for "normal, reasonable and customary" time to check their status, which usually is up to about five minutes, Giuliano said.

Jason Carroll, assistant patrol agent in charge at the Port Angeles office, said the checkpoint process includes safely slowing down and stopping the traffic.

People are asked their citizenship and then either cleared or directed to a secondary questioning area out of the regular flow of traffic, especially if they say they are Mexican citizens, he said.

At the secondary questioning area, agents must verify that people are legally able to be in the country and haven't overstayed their visa, Carroll said.

Resident aliens are required to carry their green cards as proof of their eligibility to be in the country, he said.

Giuliano said someone who appears more nervous than usual might be questioned more extensively or asked for identification but a vehicle can be searched only with probable cause.

When agents begin waving people through a checkpoint it's to keep the traffic from backing up, which is a safety hazard, Giuliano said.

So when they begin stopping cars again agents aren't engaging in racial profiling, they are simply resuming the traffic stops after clearing the backup, he said.

Giuliano said agents will take a different approach than checkpoints if necessary, such as if small local airports begin becoming a favorite point of entry for illegal immigrants or smugglers.

In the past 18 months, the Port Angeles station has increased from five employees to 24, Giuliano said.

Custom and Border Protection's Air and Marine Division also now is authorized to operate out of Port Angeles, he said.

The people are hired and now the agency is looking for somewhere to put them and the equipment, Giuliano said.

The aircraft that will come to Port Angeles are being stored at Bellingham International Airport and the boat is being stored in St. Augustine, Fla.

The agency also is looking at new locations for agents such as Point Roberts, the Whatcom County enclave isolated by Canada, Marblemount and Anacortes in Skagit County and areas along the Washington coastline, Giuliano said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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