Article Image

Washington State Residents: The Most Recent Victims of Homeland Security Aggression

Written by Subject: Homeland Security
According to the news articles linked to below, the Department of Homeland Security has continued the expansion of its un-American enforcement activities by directing them against Washington State residents utilizing Northwest domestic Ferry services.

Specifically, Border Patrol Agents have established suspicionless checkpoints at domestic Ferry terminals servicing the residents of the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington. The islands are part of Washington State and island inhabitants are Washington State residents.

Despite the fact that the Ferry services in question never cross an international border, this hasn't deterred Homeland Security agents from directing scarce 'security' resources against Washington State residents absent reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. Thus proving once again that DHS either has no clue on how to defend the 'Homeland' or no intention of doing so.

Rather the specter of terrorism and illegal immigration are used as excuses for the continued expansion of federal influence and control at the expense of the founding principles of this country.

While recent events in Washington State are being mimicked in one form or another in border states across the country, I'd like to bring attention to a quote from attorney Matt Adams of the Northwest Immigration Rights Project:

"They can ask you where you're from; they can ask you to show your papers or to show your driver's license or to show your birth certificate — but you don't have to provide that information," Adams says.

Because these checkpoints are not on the border, people have a greater right to privacy, Adams says.

"What I suggest to individuals is to politely refuse to answer questions, and then if they still don't let you go, to say 'Am I under arrest? If I'm not under arrest, I'd like to continue on my way,' " he says.

Words we all need to take to heart as 'Homeland Security' intrusion continues to grow in our daily lives.

Putting a stop to the burgeoning American police state will not happen from the top down. It will only happen when enough individuals decide to take individual action in common cause.

Several recent articles detailing this story appear below along with links back to the original websites:

Citizenship Checks on Wash. Ferries Stir Controversy

by Martin Kaste

Morning Edition, April 30, 2008 · The U.S. Border Patrol has started regularly checking the citizenship of passengers on certain ferries inside Washington state. Such nationality checks are common in the Southwest, but along the Canadian border, they're still relatively new — and to many people, the checkpoints have come as a shock.

A ferry from Friday Harbor on San Juan Island to Anacortes, a town on the coast, follows a domestic route — it never leaves U.S. waters. Yet, when it arrives in Anacortes, there's a chance that passengers will be greeted by the Border Patrol.

Joe Giuliano, a Border Patrol spokesman, explains what might happen if there is a checkpoint when this ferry docks.

"We're asking you your nationality and citizenship. ... If you have no paperwork with you, then we either have to be convinced by you, or run some other records checks, either on your vehicle or the name you give us, to attempt to validate that," he says.

Close Enough to Canada

Washington state's San Juans are a cluster of picture-postcard islands known for small farms, bed-and-breakfasts and whale-watching. They also happen to be close enough to Canada that an illegal immigrant or a smuggler might kayak across and then take a domestic ferry to the U.S. mainland. The Border Patrol says that's why it needs to have a "choke point" at the Anacortes dock.

On this day, though, it looks as though there will be no checks. Passengers are let straight off the ferry — and Vinnie O'Connor is relieved not to have to stop and attest to his citizenship.

"If it bugs me [to have to answer that question], I'm not going to say anything. I want to get through the line and get in my car and go home," O'Connor says.

It certainly bugs some people. William Ginsig, who lives on Orcas Island, encountered the checkpoint for the first time a couple of weeks ago.

"When we got there, there was this big guy, came over to the car. I rolled down the window, and he says, 'Oh, you're American, go ahead.' The hysterical part about all this is, my wife is a French citizen," Ginsig says.

Rights to Privacy

Upset islanders even called Seattle immigration lawyer Matt Adams, director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, to give them a mini legal seminar.

"They can ask you where you're from; they can ask you to show your papers or to show your driver's license or to show your birth certificate — but you don't have to provide that information," Adams says.

Because these checkpoints are not on the border, people have a greater right to privacy, Adams says.

"What I suggest to individuals is to politely refuse to answer questions, and then if they still don't let you go, to say 'Am I under arrest? If I'm not under arrest, I'd like to continue on my way,' " he says.

There have been a few protests: A couple of passengers tried answering the citizenship question by flashing American flags that they had painted on their wrists. They were only delayed. But for illegal immigrants, the stakes are higher.

An Immigrant's Perspective

On San Juan Island, an illegal immigrant from Mexico watches the ferry arrive. Asking not to be identified, she says she no longer dares to go off the island.

"If you go off island and you don't have the whole family with you and you get stopped there, you're going to get deported, and what about the rest of your family?" she says.

She says she feels trapped — but not everyone is sympathetic.

"If you do something willfully and you say 'I'm not going to pay attention to this law,' and then that law catches up with you, then the right thing to do is accept the consequences," says Chris Clark, a longtime Friday Harbor resident.

Clark is annoyed at fellow islanders who oppose the checkpoints. He says the number of illegal immigrants on the islands has jumped in the past decade or so. Some locals complain about being undercut by illegal workers, especially in the landscaping business.

Tightening Security

Border Patrol spokesman Giuliano says it's time that enforcement caught up.

"The Border Patrol presence on the northern border was not really what we would have liked it to have been for a great many years," Giuliano says. "And in the wake of 9/11, we're starting to get resourced up, and we're finally reaching that point where we're doing these things that, in all honesty, we should have been doing all along."

Many locals acknowledge that border security probably needs to be tighter. But on these cozy islands, high security still comes as something of a culture shock.

"It's a visceral thing," says Howie Rosenfeld, chairman of the county council. "It just seems like we're not the free and brave country that we were. We seem to be sinking into some sort of a fear-based society."

Rosenfeld says he plans to cooperate with the checkpoints, but he hopes it isn't something he'll have to get used to.


Border Patrol "spot checks" on ferries provoke outrage in San Juan Islands

By Sara Jean Green
Seattle Times staff reporter

FRIDAY HARBOR, San Juan County — The people of the San Juan Islands tend to be independent sorts, espousing a do-it-yourself, leave-me-be ethos as natural and ever-present as the tide.

But for many of the 17,000 people of this island county, the normal rhythms of small-town life have hit a dissonant chord lately.

A couple of months ago, the U.S. Border Patrol began occasional "spot checks" of every vehicle and passenger arriving in Anacortes off state ferries, the lifeline between these islands and the mainland.

For some here, it seems like a good idea or, at worst, a minor inconvenience. But for a vocal and active faction, the federal agents' aggressive questioning and demands for identification have spurred outrage.

In the islands' coffee shops and the editorial pages of the local paper, then in a crowded, heated meeting last month, a number of people have complained that islanders are being unfairly treated and questioned, even though they haven't left the country and normally wouldn't be subject to such scrutiny.

Terms like "police state" are hurled around, as they say the searches are illegal, unconstitutional — and just a ruse to catch illegal immigrants and petty drug users.

The Border Patrol responds that the stops are annoying but necessary, the cost of keeping the country safe. It maintains that a terrorist could easily use the same maze of waterways and islands here that for generations has harbored smugglers, rumrunners and drug dealers.

But in this comparatively affluent county, where there isn't a single stoplight, angry islanders are unsatisfied. They've complained to their congressional delegates and recently asked the American Civil Liberties Union to monitor the situation and provide legal advice.

And they have rallied around a family who immigrated illegally from Mexico years ago and were recently caught up in the dragnet. They raised bail for them and paid their rent while they were detained.

The Border Patrol's actions are "hurting good people, even if they are undocumented," said the Rev. Raymond Heffernan, priest at Friday Harbor's St. Francis Catholic Church.

Island residents "are concerned about the invasion to their own privacy and the damage it's doing to good people — people who are contributing to the community," said the 77-year-old priest.

Smugglers' haven

With their location 20 or so miles from Canada, the San Juan Islands have enticed smugglers for more than a century. Complex channels and isolated coves concealed the import of Chinese laborers and opium in the 1880s, moonshine during Prohibition, and more recently, potent marijuana known as "B.C. bud."

And the Border Patrol says terrorists could be next.

San Juan Islanders are used to customs inspections in Anacortes if they take the ferry that comes from Sidney, B.C. Before now, though, they were never subjected to checks on domestic ferry runs.

That changed in February, when federal agents started corralling everyone off domestic ferries into a fenced-off area in Anacortes and questioning them about their citizenship. It now happens once, maybe twice a week; no one has any way to know if they will be stopped.

When islanders talk about taking a ferry to the mainland, the joke around town these days is, "I'm going back to America," said David Jones, the mayor of Friday Harbor.

"There's a great surge of indignation underneath the surface here," he said.

So much so that local attorney Carolyn de Roos recently asked three Seattle lawyers to come speak at two meetings about residents' rights and legal options.

Their advice: Don't answer any questions.

Because island residents who board domestic ferries don't cross an international border, they "have a right not to reveal anything about their legal status," said Matt Adams, an attorney with the Seattle-based Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and a member of the ACLU.

"Once they're inside the country, Immigration doesn't have the right to detain someone without reasonable suspicion," Adams said. And ethnic background, skin color or language don't meet that threshold.

But if someone admits to being in the country illegally, Border Patrol can arrest the person.

"It's a vulnerability"

Joe Giuliano, the Border Patrol's deputy chief patrol agent for the Blaine border sector, says he understands that the stops are a hassle for law-abiding citizens.

But he stresses that the threat of terrorism is no joke.

It's conceivable that someone could get to the islands by plane or boat, or board an international ferry in Sidney, B.C., and get off in Friday Harbor instead of Anacortes. Once in an island community, a person with nefarious intentions could mix with the locals and then board a domestic ferry in order to sneak into the country, Giuliano said.

"It's a vulnerability and we're worried that it could be exploited," he said.

"You have to catch it all to make sure you're not dealing with a terrorist issue. And, if an immigration issue walks up to you, you're pretty much compelled to act on it."

As for residents who refuse to cooperate or answer questions, Giuliano said, agents will still run their license-plate numbers and search databases, detaining them until it can be determined whether they are here legally. But if an agent doesn't have enough information to make that determination, or doesn't have probable cause to arrest someone, "the thing is let go," he said.

Between late February and last week, 43 people — 38 of them from Mexico — have been arrested in the ferry stops, Giuliano said. An additional 141 people from a total of 33 countries were interviewed by agents before they were let go.

"Oh, no. They've got us"

Late last year, rumors began circulating among the islands' Hispanics that the Border Patrol was snaring illegal immigrants who rode the ferries to Anacortes.

So for three months, the Sanabria family — Antonio, Amelia and their daughters Guadalupe, 18, and Carmen, 15 — never left Friday Harbor.

When they didn't hear of any arrests, they decided to chance it in February so Guadalupe could take her driver's-license test on the mainland.

A Border Patrol agent approached their pickup truck as they got off the ferry in Anacortes. Antonio Sanabria whispered to his family in Spanish: "Oh, no. They've got us."

It never occurred to them that they could refuse to answer the agents' questions, said Guadalupe Sanabria, who was 2 when her parents illegally came to the U.S. from Michoacan, Mexico.

The family was sent to a federal detention facility in Pennsylvania. Even before the Sanabrias were escorted onto a plane, Guadalupe was phoning friends back in Friday Harbor.

As it will in small towns, news spread fast. Members of the community managed to raise enough money to get the family out on a $30,000 bond, and they were back in Friday Harbor by the end of March — their plane tickets also courtesy of folks back home.

Even so, the Sanabrias know they will probably lose their bid to stay in the United States.

"I'm really thankful our community helped us because if not for them, we wouldn't be back," Guadalupe said. "It's in God's hands. We just hope someday there's a way for us to be legal."

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or