Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Catch And Release: The Order Of The Day

Catch and Release is back with a vengence. Once the hallmark of the Bush non-enforcement policy, it was officially buried at the end of that administration, but is back with a vengence under the Obama Administrative Amnesty.

Across the country, from Washington:

FORKS, Wash. (AP) — Benjamin Roldan Salinas, a forest worker in the country illegally, leapt into the frigid Sol Duc River to escape a pursuing U. S. Border Patrol Agent, disappearing into the fast-moving waters.

For more than three weeks, his family, friends and volunteers — including other illegal immigrants — scoured the dense forest along the swollen river's banks for any sign of him.

The Border Patrol suspected that Salinas had survived and fled. Still, as many as 150 people at a time continued to look.

"They believed he was out there somewhere because he hadn't gone home," Clallam County Sheriff's Sergeant Brian King said.

The search ended June 4 when a family friend spotted the 43-year-old Salinas' bloated, decomposing body entangled in roots downstream, according to the sheriff's report.

His death heightened tensions in what has become a protracted engagement between the Border Patrol and the immigrant population of Forks — the small, remote Washington town best known as the fictional home of the vampire series "Twilight."

"We talk about Arizona, Texas and the southern border...it's here. It's in our backyard," said Forks Mayor Bryon Monohon, about immigration enforcement efforts in his town. "It really is just an atmosphere of fear."

Border Patrol agents have questioned citizens and arrested illegal immigrants leaving the Forks courthouse. They've chased migrants working as pickers for the decorative floral industry in nearby forests.

The crackdown has spurred immigrants and their allies to develop a warning system using phones and text messages any time a Border Patrol car is spotted, according to interviews with Border Patrol officials, town leaders, and immigrant advocates.

The agency says that it is simply following its mandate:

Enforcing the country's immigration laws, protecting the border and shoreline from terrorists, drug smugglers and other illegal activity. Forks is just another locale where the nation's immigration laws are being violated, officials said.

"We continue to go out there and do the same mission as we would right along the border," said Border Patrol agent Chris Dyer, after a patrol of the town in March. "Our style doesn't really change. I think they just don't understand the full scope of our duties."

The northwest border was thrust into the spotlight when Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian national who was convicted on multiple counts for his millennium plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport, was caught by Customs and Border Protection agents in 1999 as he drove off a ferry in Port Angeles, Wash. with explosives in the trunk of his car.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush ordered CBP to beef up its presence on the U.S.-Canada border, almost twice as long as the U.S.-Mexico border. Starting In 2007, the federal government began increasing immigration enforcement efforts in Washington state and along the northern border.

Before that, Monohon said, the Border Patrol was rarely seen in Forks.

Border Patrol enforcement practices common on the southern border, such as highway checkpoints, were implemented, miffing residents on the Olympic Peninsula, the area's congressman and local authorities. Agents also conducted more Northwest-accented actions, including checking cars on ferries. As objections mounted, the road checkpoints were cut back. Agents still board passenger buses bound for Seattle as part of their routine security efforts.

The Border Patrol has the authority to conduct enforcement actions within 100-miles of the border. There are about 30 officers now on the Olympic Peninsula, the mayor said.

"I understand... that it's not right for people coming unchecked. But it's not our community's failure. It's a failure of the entire country, that we have to try to rectify somewhere, somehow," Monohon said. "But at the same time, there are still civil rights issues. It's very disturbing that we have people just up and disappear. But it's just Forks, we're a long ways away and nobody pays attention."

Straddling U.S. Highway 101, Forks is small, with about 3,200 residents. Some 40 percent of the school district's students receive free or reduced lunches, a poverty indicator. Forks is an unusual border town in that there's no road or land crossing directly to Canada. Instead, the U.S.-Canada maritime border is about 25 miles to the north in the Strait of Juan De Fuca. The 1441-square miles Olympic National Park is to the east.

The area is home to whites, Native Americans, Latinos and indigenous people from Guatemala. Starting in the mid-1990s, the Latino immigrant community began to grow, Monohon said. Now, about 15 percent of students in the Forks school district are Latino.

For decades the town was reliant on timber. When the industry collapsed, Forks suffered an economic depression.

Now, Twilights fans from around the globe make pilgrimages here to see the inspiration behind the books and movies that feature Forks as a dreary backdrop to the feuding teen vampires and the forest-dwelling teen werewolves. The tourists bring much needed cash.

Immigrants — both legal and illegal — also make up another economic driver: Collecting leafs from the leathery-leaved shrub salal, used in the floral green ornament industry. The floral greens are a $150 million a year business in Washington, according to the state Farm Bureau.

Dressed in heavy rain gear, dozens of immigrants file into vans and trucks every morning from Forks and head to the forest, driving down isolated forest roads to designated areas during picking season. The U.S. Forest Service hands out permits to the men and women, who then sell what they pick to wholesalers. For hours, they cut branches off the shrubs, cleaning out the bad leaves and collecting the profitable ones. They gather dozens of little bundles that are worth a dollar or so each.

"Sometimes it's a little scary being out here," said Virgilio Pablo, a 23-year-old Guatemalan immigrant, while picking during a damp December day in the quiet of the forest. "Sometimes you just hear things and get scared."

Pablo and his wife pick together to make a living. He uses his machete to mark trees. Inexperienced pickers often lose their way in the dense forests, said Pablo, who was deported after his asylum application was denied.

Forest Service officers patrol these woods, too. The penalty for picking salal or other forest-based products outside of designated areas can start at $275.

As he drove around Forks, agent Dyer explained that the Border Patrol tries to focus on illegal immigrants who have criminal records.

During the last fiscal year, the agency recorded 673 arrests in the Blaine Sector, which covers western Washington, parts of Oregon and Alaska. The Border Patrol would not say how many of the arrests involved illegal immigrants with criminal records.

The Clallam County Sheriff's office has no record of a criminal history for Salinas.

Much of the local criticism of the Border Patrol has come from arrests of migrant workers picking salal. Dyer said that they don't specifically target salal workers but when the Forest Service calls for aid, agents respond.

"We can do our job by determining what their immigration status is," Dyer said. "And if they're in the country illegally, we'll arrest them for those immigration violations."
That was the scenario on the day Salinas fled.

According to the sheriff's office, Forest Service and Border Patrol, Salinas and a woman were returning from a day harvesting salal. They were stopped by a Forest Service officer, who then called the Border Patrol.

Forest Service spokeswoman Donna Nemeth said the officer suspected Salinas and the woman were harvesting salal illegally. When a Border Patrol officer arrived, Salinas ran and was chased.

"It's not uncommon to request translation (many of the immigrants are Spanish speakers) from the nearest available resource. And in this case it was the Border Patrol," said Nemeth.

Salinas was last seen jumping into the river. The woman was arrested on an immigration violation and was sent to the Tacoma detention center. She was later released.

"We did the best we could to try to come up with the individual," Border Patrol Spokesman Richard Sinks said. "It's not like we gave up on him and drove off with what we had. It's unfortunate and our heartfelt condolences go to his family and friends.

"Basically, we feel we did our job."

In a statement, Salinas' family said his body would be flown to Mexico this week for burial.

I'll bet wifey is not going back to bury her husband, she just got amnesty and will be staying.

And from Florida:

Federal agents appear to have stepped up checks for undocumented immigrants on public transportation, including Greyhound buses and Amtrak. The feds say they have the authority to check any public area.

As a Greyhound bus prepared to leave a small town near Atlanta, 19-year-old Azucena headed to the window seat on the last row , on her way to Miami to start school and a new life.

She propped a pillow against the glass and drifted off to sleep as the bus glided down the highway toward South Florida.

Around 5 a.m., Azucena, who does not want her last name used, woke up when the bus driver pulled up to the Pompano Beach bus station—one stop before her final destination.

Three U.S. Border Patrol agents boarded, announcing they would be checking IDs. She lifted her head to see one agent walking directly toward her.

“It kind of looked like they already knew who they were looking for, because they went straight to the back where I was,” said Azucena, now enrolled in a beauty school in Little Havana.

At that moment, one frightening thought raced through her mind: “Oh my God I’m being deported!’’

Azucena spent the next 76 days in a federal immigration center, Broward Transitional Center, becoming one of a fast-growing number of undocumented immigrants caught in what may be the latest crackdown: Grabbing them from public transportation, mainly Greyhound and Amtrak.

Immigration searches on public transportation sites are not well publicized. Border patrol agents generally protect the border or coastline. But, Steve Cribby, spokesperson for U. S. Customs and Border Protection, says agents have the authority to conduct immigration checks in public places. And checks on Greyhound buses and Amtrak are meant to disrupt human smuggling activities into the country’s interior, he said.

The checks are consistent with previous years, he said. Citing law enforcement sensitivity, border patrol officials would not provide figures on apprehensions on public transportation.

But attorneys and others say they have definitely seen an increase.

“I am definitely seeing a large number of people stopped by Greyhound,” said attorney Sara Van Hofwegen, who worked with Azucena to get her deportation order deferred under the proposed DREAM Act, which will provides a path to citizenship for some.

On one recent visit to the BTC in Southwest Broward, Van Hofwegen spoke to 12 detainees. Five of the 12 were apprehended on a Greyhound.

“I’d say Greyhound cases make up about 20 percent of our clients now,’’ said Juliet Williams, an assistant with the law offices of Kantaras & Andreopoulos, with offices in Central Florida. “That is much more than we’ve usually seen.”

She estimates the firm has seen an increase in Greyhound apprehensions of about 25 percent in the past two years.

Between October 2010 and May 2011, immigration agents in Florida arrested around 2,900 undocumented immigrants. That includes arrests made on public transportation, apprehensions through routine highway stops and drug cases.

“We assist local and government officials like [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and the Border Patrol as needed,” said Greyhound spokesperson Bonnie Bastian in an email. “We are unaware of when and why they are at our stations until they arrive.”

As for Amtrak, spokesperson Christina Leeds said the service has a “longstanding relationship” with federal law enforcement agencies.

“Amtrak works closely and cooperates with all federal, state and local” agencies, she said.

Azucena arrived in the United States at age 9, hiding at the feet of passengers in a truck smuggling her family into a Texas border town.

Now, 10 years later, agents were placing her and her two large suitcases in the back of their patrol truck.

“I felt like I was there for something that someone else made a choice for me. That it was not right, but my parents were just trying to do the best they could.”

On that particular day, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010, Azucena began crying hysterically on the bus after she handed Border Patrol agents her Mexican passport.

“They were just trying to calm me down. They didn’t even handcuff me… they were just like, “Calm down. Calm down. It’s OK. It’s OK.”

Agents drove Azucena to the BTC, a detention facility reserved for undocumented persons with no criminal convictions.

Most of the 120 women in the center when she arrived were apprehended the same way.

“On a Greyhound,” she said. “The most common was Greyhound.”

Though she’s out with the help of Van Hofwegen, from the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC), Azucena, now 20, is still nervous about the status of her family and herself.

When she was in 10th grade, she was confronted with her illegal status after landing her first job at a Georgia Wendy’s. She never showed because she did not have a social security number.

“I was qualified to get the job and just because I had no social, I couldn’t go,’’ she said. “I felt like I was out of place.”

Guatemalan native Juan Ordones Lima’s immigration status caught up with him when he was traveling back to his family in Homestead in early May after finishing a construction job up north. His Pennsylvania employer had purchased him a Greyhound ticket home.

During a 9 a.m. stop in Jacksonville on May 11, 2011 agents boarded the bus.
Lima, 22, living in Homestead for the past seven years, could not provide proof of legal status. He was brought to the BTC.

That day, some 60 other men showed up to the facility, Lima told his wife.

“He hears people talking that they were caught while driving or being a passenger somewhere,’’ said his wife Eulalia.

As for Azucena, she’s slowly getting her confidence back after five months in school. Following her February release from detention, she was granted a social security number and a two year-work permit.

Now, Azucena said, “I would actually take the Greyhound again. Just so they ask me for my papers and I can [say] ‘here you go.’”

Another arrogant beneficiary of Obama's Administrative Amnesty, implemented by Catch and Release.

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