by AMANDA WINTERS
Separated by only two miles, the views expressed on Monday by Port Angeles Border Patrol station supervisor Jose Romero and members of Stop the Checkpoints couldn’t have been further apart.
While Romero, in the air conditioned Red Lion Hotel, told members of the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce there is “no reason (for agents) to be bored up here,” activists with Stop the Checkpoints, standing in the noon sun, protested the construction of a new $5.7 million station for the “Bored Border Patrol.”
The protest comes on the heels of whistle-blowing testimony by a Port Angeles agent who told members of a congressional panel in Washington D.C. there isn’t enough work for agents on the peninsula to justify the expanding presence of the Border Patrol.
Christian Sanchez told the panel he and other agents drove around “wasting gasoline” and taxpayer money for 10 hours a day, going stir-crazy from boredom. Sanchez estimated there were 40 agents with the Port Angeles station, up from 24 in 2009.
Romero said he couldn’t comment on Sanchez specifically but that he encourages all agents to talk to people about what they do.
“There’s no reason to be bored up here,” he said.
Offering no specifics
While Romero said the Border Patrol agents on the peninsula are always looking for immigration violations, drug activity, terrorist activity and the smuggling of contraband, he declined to give specifics on the volume of such activities.
When asked how many agents there are, Romero said there are 20,000 agents nationwide but did not give local figures.
In March, Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Richard Sinks declined to release statistics on apprehensions or detainments made by the Port Angeles station.
“Disclosure of the arrest statistics from the Port Angeles station would provide those interested in crossing our borders illegally with information that could aid their strategic targeting of potentially vulnerable areas along the border,” he said in an e-mail. “To maintain operational security these numbers will not be provided.”
Stop the Checkpoints advocates are demanding the public release of the numbers of agents, detentions, arrests and deportations by the Port Angeles station, group coordinator Lori Danks said.
“It’s a horrible waste of money,” Danks said of the new station construction on Penn Street in Port Angeles.
“A bored Border Patrol can lead to problems.”
Meeting in the works
Following Sanchez’s testimony and the subsequent outcry of concern, staff members of Congressman Norm Dicks’ office are working to schedule a meeting with the Blaine Border Patrol sector, which stretches from Whatcom County south along the west side of the Interstate-5 corridor, across the Olympic Peninsula and south to Oregon.
“There’s a tremendous concern in the community about some of the Border Patrol’s activities,” Press Secretary George Behan said.
Behan said questions include: Is the Border Patrol doing the right things? Is funding adequate? What missions are being undertaken?
Behan acknowledged the closed-lipped policy of the agency and said he isn’t sure how much the congressman’s office will be told or what they will be allowed to share with the public.
“What the congressman wanted us to do is make sure we understand the plans the Border Patrol has for the Olympic Peninsula,” he said.
Behan said staff members are trying to schedule the meeting before the end of the month.
Meanwhile, Romero maintains there is enough activity to keep agents busy.
Romero said he served with the Border Patrol in Texas and New Mexico, where it was normal to have three agents covering one southern border mile, before transferring to Port Angeles, where it is more normal to have one agent covering 40 miles.
“People ask me if it’s easier here,” he said. “Absolutely not.”
Reach Amanda Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org.