JUNE 09, 2008
The U.S. government’s increased security in a vulnerable part of the northern border notorious for drug smuggling has been labeled racial profiling by city and county officials because dozens of illegal immigrants have been arrested in the process.
The U.S. Border Patrol recently began checking the identification of residents who make the ferry trip from a group of Washington islands called San Juans to the mainland at Anacortes near Seattle. The checks are a vital part of securing the notoriously porous U.S.-Canada border, which authorities say has been used by Middle Eastern terrorists to enter the country.
Located just a few miles from Canada’s Vancouver Island, the San Juans lie close to the international routes used by huge cargo ships heading to U.S. ports in Seattle and Tacoma. The group of islands has a combined population of about 15,000 and accounts for San Juan County, the smallest of Washington’s 39 counties.
But the area’s established Northwest smuggling enterprise presents a big national security threat that is being taken seriously by the federal government. In fact, in 1999 an Algerian man was caught by customs agents in nearby Port Angeles with explosives in the trunk of his rental car after driving off a ferry from British Columbia. He was plotting to blow up the Los Angeles Airport during the millennium celebration and was sentenced to nearly two decades in prison.
Because the increased ferry security has led to the arrest of nearly 50 illegal immigrants from Latin America, local officials are accusing federal agents of racial profiling and one San Juan County Councilman says the area’s Hispanic community is paranoid and not wanting to go out on the street. A group of local politicians have even sent a letter protesting the spot checks to their congressional delegation.
Local immigrant advocate groups have also joined the racial profiling chorus while accusing federal agents of committing unconstitutional checks against hardworking immigrants whose families are torn by deportations. The agent in charge of the operation points out that those who get deported have made a personal decision to violate the law of the United States and obtain employment they were not entitled to.
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