Ferry worker denounces Anacortes patrol agent
A Washington state ferry worker has denounced the Border Patrol for using a plainclothes agent to monitor activity at the Anacortes ferry...
The Associated Press
A Washington state ferry worker has denounced the Border Patrol for using a plainclothes agent to monitor activity at the Anacortes ferry terminal, the same location where the federal agency has been widely criticized for conducting security spot-checks of domestic ferry runs.
John Norby, who works at the terminal directing traffic, said a plainclothes Border Patrol officer approached him in April and asked him if he'd be interested in sharing "intelligence."
"This is a federal police force asking civilians to inform on civilians," Norby said this week.
But Border Patrol officials say having a plainclothes officer patrolling the terminal is standard procedure, part of their efforts to secure the terminal, and nothing out of the ordinary for a law-enforcement agency.
In late February, the Border Patrol started conducting unannounced ferry security checks of domestic ferry runs arriving in Anacortes from the nearby San Juan Islands, drawing ire from local government and sharp reactions from pro-immigrant and civil-liberties groups.
The spot checks also have struck fear among Hispanic residents of the islands, and many have not ventured off the islands for months.
The islands are in Northwest Washington's inland waters, a few miles from Canada's Vancouver Island, and lie close to the international-shipping routes used by huge cargo ships that call at Seattle and Tacoma.
The maze of islands, channels and coves has been used for decades by smugglers trafficking in everything from Prohibition-era booze to the potent British Columbia marijuana of today.
As of late May, the spot checks have produced 49 arrests — and 48 of those arrested were Latin American immigrants, according to Border Patrol figures. The people were arrested for being in the United States illegally and now face deportation.
For Norby, those statistics and the plainclothes agent — who is Hispanic — indicate the Border Patrol is targeting a selected group of people. He said the plainclothes agent essentially is spying on ferry passengers — and approaching state workers to do the same.
"I ain't got no quarrel with no immigrants — legal or not," said Norby, a former sailor from Whidbey Island.
But the Border Patrol has denied Norby's claim that the agency is trying to infiltrate the Hispanic community.
"That would be inaccurate," said Joe Giuliano, deputy chief patrol agent. The reason the plainclothes agent is working at the terminal "is that he's the best person I could find to do that job — on the intelligence section, he speaks excellent Spanish, he's truly bilingual. The fact that he's [Hispanic] is purely coincidental."
Giuliano has said ferry spot checks should have been done a long time ago at Anacortes, but a lack of funding made it impossible, and that the porous border is of concern to the Border Patrol.
He added that the high number of Latin Americans arrested is due to the demographics of the area — where Hispanics are the largest minority.
The agent's presence at the terminal is no secret, Giuliano said, because he identifies himself to state workers as a Border Patrol agent, as he did when he talked to Norby.
So far, the agent has not boarded a ferry sailing, but Giuliano said he would not rule that out.
Karol Brown, a lawyer who works for Hate Free Zone, a Seattle-based immigrant-advocate organization, said immigration-enforcement agencies have been known for using Spanish-speaking undercover officers to arrest immigrants.
"Most people, if they're just asked where they're from, especially in your native language, they just say where they're from," Brown said.
In those cases, illegal immigrants drop their guard and tell officers enough information to make an arrest, Brown said.
The heightened enforcement "doesn't add to our security and there is some real civil-liberties concern," Brown said. "That's not the type of country I want to live in, where people live in fear."
Washington State Ferries is required by federal mandate to cooperate with federal agencies on security matters, part of maintaining high security standards for the ferries, spokeswoman Marta Coursey said.
She added that employees such as Norby are free to make the choice to not cooperate with a federal agency.
"We absolutely will not compromise on safety and security issues," Coursey said.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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