Checkpoint sticks in Forks' craw
The old logging town of Forks is filled with independent-minded folks who "live in the middle of nowhere. And want to keep it that way," jokes...
Seattle Times staff columnist
The old logging town of Forks is filled with independent-minded folks who "live in the middle of nowhere. And want to keep it that way," jokes the mayor.
So it didn't go over so well when the feds showed up last week and, in the name of fighting terrorism, made locals vouch for their citizenship. "It has created a lot of turmoil out here," says Nedra Reed, mayor of the town of 3,200 on the far side of the Olympic Peninsula.
Starting at 8 a.m. last Thursday, federal Border Patrol agents blocked the highway outside town. For four hours, every car, truck and bus driving south on Highway 101 was pulled off the road and all passengers questioned.
Layla Iranshad, 27, was headed to her job at Peninsula College. She says the agent asked her if she was a U.S. citizen (yes, she answered), then asked where she was born.
"I said in England. Then he asked how I got my citizenship. He also wanted to know where I lived and where I was going.
"It freaked me out. Since when in this country do we get stopped on the street and questioned about our citizenship?"
U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced last week it will stop drivers at a series of random checkpoints on the Olympic Peninsula in the coming months.
"The primary purpose of the temporary checkpoints is to support enhanced national-security efforts to deter, detect and prevent the threat of terrorist attacks against the American people," says a statement from the Border Patrol.
The agency, which guards the international boundary, can set up "interior checkpoints" up to 100 miles from any border. The checkpoints have been used before near the Blaine crossing, but never on the Olympic Peninsula.
Forks is 30 miles from the border, which lies in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. By these rules, the agency could set up a checkpoint in downtown Seattle, which is 70 miles from the border off Port Angeles.
But why a counterterrorism operation in Forks? There's not a lot there, except a confluence of great fishing rivers (hence the name Forks) and the national-park beaches.
There was no specific terrorist threat, says Bob Kohlman, a Border Patrol supervisor.
"We are working on many initiatives to secure the border from a breach by terrorists or terrorist weapons of mass destruction," Kohlman said. "This is just one of those initiatives."
Stopping traffic in Forks?
The mayor is as dubious as I am. Forks has changed from its days as the "Logging Capital of the World." It's 20 percent Latino immigrants now, many of whom come to pick salal, an evergreen prized by florists.
"People are feeling this is a fishing expedition for illegal immigrants," Reed said.
That's what the government caught — seven undocumented workers, who were shipped to a detention center in Tacoma.
It's true the Millennium Bomber was nabbed in nearby Port Angeles, back in '99. But that was at a border crossing. It ought to be tough to get in across our borders.
But inside, in places like Forks, it's supposed to be the land of the free. Remember?
Reach Danny Westneat at 206-464-2086 or email@example.com.
About Danny Westneat
Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
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