Undeterred by questions about hyperaggressive tactics and possible overfunding, the Border Patrol has apparently turned up the heat on the Olympic Peninsula. Now, simply giving an illegal immigrant a ride in your car, something that happens on the periphery of Home Depot parking lots around the country, leaves you at risk of being detained—even if you yourself are legal.
Last week, the Forks Human Rights Group, residents who have been documenting the Border Patrol's intense activity in the city made famous by the Twilight novels and films, sent a letter to Senator Patty Murray and other members of Congress calling for an investigation of "increasing questionable and illegal behavior" by the BP's Port Angeles office.
"In the last few days, we were told by Border Patrol that their agents have been instructed to arrest people with illegal aliens in the car," says the letter signed by Lesley Hoare. Talking to Seattle Weekly, Hoare says she herself was told that during a phone conversation with a staffer in the Port Angeles office.
The letter cites a couple such cases. One concerns a Mexican immigrant who has been a legal resident for more than 20 years but who now, according to the letter, is under threat of deportation after being stopped with an illegal immigrant in his car.
In an interview with SW, Maclovio Bautista describes being pursued by the Border Patrol on Tuesday, December 6, while he and a friend were going to see a mechanic about vehicles they needed to fix. When he pulled over, Bautista says his friend ran. But agents eventually caught the friend and determined him to be illegal. Then Bautista said the agents called him a "criminal" and brought him to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, where he was held for three days.
Now, he says, "I don't know what's going to happen." Bautista says he has been told to report to Tukwila, where U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has an office, on January 4.
Jeffrey Jones, a Blaine-based spokesperson for the Border Patrol, says he can't talk about specific cases. He does, however, say that agents are empowered to detain "anyone," including legal residents, on suspicion of "alien smuggling" if found to have an illegal immigrant in his or her car—even if the car in question is not actually smuggling someone into the country, Jones maintains. "There doesn't have to be a cross-border nexus," he says, citing the relevant federal code, which he says makes it a crime to transport aliens "within" as well as into the United States.
But Jorge Baron, executive director of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, says this interpretation chops off a crucial part of one sentence: It's a crime not only to transport someone, but to do so "in furtherance of such violation of law." In other words, you have to be helping someone get into the U.S. illegally. He says the language was meant to catch the kind of people who pick up just-smuggled immigrants, say just north of the Mexican border in Arizona, and then transport them inland.
"Simple transportation does not meet the legal test for conviction," agrees Ann Benson, director of the Washington Defender Association's Immigration Project. She points to rulings on the subject from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
If the Border Patrol is using a broader interpretation, that could affect a lot of people. Anybody who picks up a day laborer, suggests Baron, could be in jeopardy.