The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency's top priority is to secure America's borders from those who would do harm.
Just how the group's agents perform that duty on the Olympic Peninsula -- and whether those efforts go toward threats to the country - has been debated at local coffee shops, water coolers and even at the side of U.S. Highway 101 at a Feb. 14 protest in front of a Discovery Bay diner.
Many Sequim residents, including local farmer Lupe Franco, see the increased number of Border Patrol agents, the ongoing random highway checkpoints, the agents' presence on public and private bus lines and their increased presence on the road as a threat to civil rights.
Others see the increased number of green uniforms and cars as a welcome addition and safety measure in the area.
Cliff Fors, of Port Angeles, said he plans on organizing pro-Border Patrol citizens to rally in counterpoint to the recently formed grassroots Stop the Checkpoints Committee.
Fors wants to start a letter-writing campaign to offset what he calls a minority voice influencing
the peninsula's representative in Congress.
U.S. Congressman Norm Dicks said in a Feb. 9 letter to Janet Napolitano, head of the Department of Homeland Security, Border Patrol's parent agency, that he questions "whether these activities are the appropriate and best use of the limited resources available to (Homeland Security's Border Patrol) as it confronts the serious threats to the security of our homeland."
Dicks served on the House Homeland Security Committee in the last three congresses. He worked on issues across the nation but this letter stems from reports he's received from his peninsula constituents.
"My concern, madam secretary, is about the legality and propriety of these tactics as well as about the priority of resource utilization in a department that struggles to prevent terrorists from gaining access to our nation," Dicks wrote.
Many reports, including Franco's personal story, indicate racial profiling and aggressive tactics are being used to arrest illegal immigrants across the Olympic Peninsula, even in Sequim, while ports of entry go without a patrol.
Border Patrol's official response has been that agents do not racially profile people to determine criminal or illegal immigrant status and that their operations are part of securing the northern border.
As part of that mission, the agency has increased in size from four to 24 agents on the peninsula within two years and plans to build a large facility with a short-term detention area in Port Angeles.
Agents have increased their number of arrests on the north peninsula, especially through random vehicle checkpoints on U.S. Highway 101 but occasionally from single-vehicle stops and arrests at the home of at least one illegal immigrant in Sequim, according to witness reports.
"We arrest people that break U.S. law," said Border Patrol's Blaine sector spokesman Michael Bermudez.
"We make arrests every day as part of our mission to secure the border."
Franco, a U.S. citizen, was at the downtown Sequim home of a friend on Cedar Street, a man who had entered the country illegally, when agents performed arrests Jan. 3.
The agents approached the group of about five or six men in the dark, ordered them to the ground at gunpoint and zip-tied or hand-cuffed them, according to Franco.
"They left my white friend alone by the truck and interviewed him later, but the rest of us were face down," Franco said with a slight Mexican accent but in good English.
"I know every illegal runs the risk of being sent back south, but these men can do that with people like my friend, who is no criminal or drug user, with more respect. Plus, I'm no illegal."
After about 45 minutes, Franco was allowed to leave because of his citizenship, but his friend was taken.
"To use flashlights in the eyes, shotguns to our backs and loud, threatening orders is something I've never seen and is something that makes me fearful for myself, even though I'm a citizen," he said.
"I may not be happy with what they are doing, but I can understand it is their job and I can respect them if they are respectful of others.
"But what I've seen even makes me afraid to be talking to" a newspaper, the Gazette.
Bermudez said he wasn't familiar with the arrests but said if the men who were arrested were illegal immigrants, the arrests were valid.
Fors said reports of racial profiling are "poppycock," adding that he's dealt with Border Patrol on the bus as well as at a checkpoint.
"They have been nothing but professional to everyone on the bus and at the checkpoint," he said.
What this issue boils down to is amnesty and the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill that proposed amnesty was shot down in Congress, so there needs to be a different approach, Fors said.
Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano is new to the job to which she was appointed by President Barack Obama.
Calls to the Department of Homeland Security were not returned by press deadline, but Napolitano has adopted a list of directives she wants the department to handle.
She's instructed specific agencies to gather information, review existing strategies and programs, and provide oral and written reports for her to review.
The directives are designed to evaluate various functions of Homeland Security, especially in regard to protection, preparedness, responses and immigration, according to the agency's Web site.
As for the local dialogue, Fors will continue to rally supporters of the Border Patrol. He said the group isn't quite formed but advised those interested in joining to look for an advertisement in future newspaper publications.
The Stop the Checkpoints Committee will continue to protest agency interactions away from ports of entry. The next scheduled protest is incorporated with another demonstration, a Women's Day march on March 7 in Sequim. For information on the committee, call 452-7534.
On a typical day
During fiscal year 2008, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents daily:
_ Apprehended 2,796 people for illegal entry into the U.S.
_ Seized 7,621 pounds of illegal drugs
_ Processed 1.09 million passengers and pedestrians
_ Apprehended one individual for terrorism-related concerns
_ Rescued three border-crossers in distress
According to www.cbp.gov
Reach Evan McLean at
The Sequim Gazette is located at 147 W. Washington Street in Sequim.
Business hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Phone 360-683-3311, or toll free at 800-829-5810. FAX 360-683-6670.
For a complete company directory with contact information please click HERE.