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Town, county may team up against citizenship spot checks

Getting a dozen islanders to agree on anything can prove next to impossible.

Perhaps even more so if they're all politicians.

But that hasn't stopped elected officials of San Juan County and the Town of Friday Harbor from joining forces and creating what could be a nearly united objection to the citizenship spot checks by the U.S. Border Patrol at the Anacortes ferry terminal.

On Tuesday, five members of the County Council endorsed a letter calling for significant changes in the way the Border Patrol conducts its inspections. Councilman Rich Peterson, North San Juan, objected to the local foray into federal law enforcement procedures and did not sign on.

If endorsed by the town, and then again by the County Council on May 20, the letter would be sent to the state's congressional delegation — Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, and Rep. Rick Larsen — along with a request for assistance in bringing about the following changes:

— Ensure that no actions of the Border Patrol impact negatively our local and regional economy.

— Ensure medical and other emergencies are accommodated immediately.

— Ensure there are equal and reasonable levels of security checks for everyone passing the checkpoint.

Penned by Council Chairman Howie Rosenfeld and Friday Harbor Mayor David Jones, the letter will be reviewed and possibly ratified by the Town Council at its Thursday night session. Whether town officials embrace the revisions by their counterparts from the county, however, remains to be seen.

"We'll discuss it and see if they're changes we can live with," Jones said of the alterations.

The revisions, however, proved instrumental in generating support from Council members Gene Knapp of Orcas Island and Bob Myhr of Lopez Island. At the behest of each, the council agreed not to request that inspections be reduced or eliminated during tourist season, and that Border Patrol receive thorough training in courteous behavior.

No fewer than 28 people, mostly islanders, have been removed from ferries originating on domestic routes in the islands and arrested for alleged immigration violations since the periodic inspections began at the start of the year, according to the Border Patrol. The intent of the inspections, according to Joe Giuliano, deputy chief of the patrol's Northwest region, is preventing enemies of the U.S. — terrorists — from using the islands and San Juan County's historically porous border as a route onto the mainland.

However, Giuliano said earlier that the Border Patrol is also tasked with enforcing immigration and drug laws, and that agents won't ignore possible violations during inspections at Anacortes.

In addition to an outpouring of criticism from islanders over the toll on civil rights and families, council members have cited the potential negative impact on the local tourism-based economy in raising objections about the unprecedented citizenship inspections.

The health of the local economy largely depends on the 600,000 or so people who visit the islands each year, according to elected town and county officials.

"These security checks may deter travelers who do not want to risk delays, or who feel intimidated by the militaristic appearance of the guards, or who have concerns about their civil liberties," the letter states.

Rosenfeld said local businesses deserve support from their elected officials in trying to reduce the negative impacts which the checkpoints have already had and that are likely to continue as the tourist season hits full stride.

"The whole reason for this is to act on behalf of our tourist-based economy and our local business community," Rosenfeld said. "I think they expect us to act on this."

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