PORT ANGELES, WA—Edgar Ayala, who graduated with honors from Forks High School last June was arrested at a Border Patrol checkpoint on Highway 101 Aug. 20 just a mile or so from the place that has been his home since he was an infant.

That made no difference to the enforcers of George W. Bush’s draconian crackdown on undocumented immigrants across the U.S. Ayala, 18, was hustled off to a detention center in Seattle and deported post-haste to Mexico. Similarly, 16 year old Carlos Bernabe was arrested at that same checkpoint and taken to a Seattle jail where he is awaiting deportation to Mexico.

These arrests are spreading a climate of fear Latino immigrant communities here on the North Olympic Peninsula. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the Border Patrol, with 45 officers, have clamped three checkpoints on the Peninsula, an isolated region where U.S. 101 is the only through highway.

The arrest of Ayala and Bernabe stirred such outrage that 90 residents of Forks, a tiny logging town in the West End of Clallam County, joined a picketline in the center of downtown protesting the deportations. They held signs that read, “Border Patrol Terrorize Children,” “Justice for All” and “Edgar Lost His Chance.” Forks was the scene of a march by 700 people May 1, 2006, a day when more than one million demonstrated for immigrant rights across the U.S.

Nenita Bocanegra, who helped organize the picketline told the Peninsula Daily News (PDN), she opposes the targeting of immigrant workers, mostly employed as salal pickers, tree planters, and other forest industry workers in the West End. This community of immigrant workers has added riches to the local culture including the cuisine. Mexican restaurants abound and Spanish is the second language. “I don’t think its right for them to be taken out of their homes when their children are here and they’re not doing anything wrong,” Bocanegra said.

Tanya Ward, a member of the Hoh Tribe, who also helped organize the protest said she hopes Forks becomes a “sanctuary city” that refuses to help enforce repressive immigration laws.
The stepped up enforcement has stirred a flood of letters to the editor of the PDN with some likening the ICE-Border Patrol crackdown to a “police state” and even “fascism” that targets the Hispanic community citizen and non-citizen alike but also infringes on the democratic rights of everyone. Scores of concerned residents turned out for a protest meeting at the Port Angeles Public Library Sept. 6. The group formed a new “Stop the Checkpoints” grassroots committee and voted to hold a mass protest rally or picketline Saturday Sept. 20 in Port Angeles where the regional Ice-Border Patrol is headquartered. Lois Danks who chaired the meeting said “Evetyone we’ve talked to us outraged by these checkpoints. These are Gestapo tactics intended to frighten people.” Many, she said, view the checkpoints here as a “pilot project” that will be imposed nationwide if people do not demand they be stopped.

Monica Charles, a member of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, told the crowd, “This country s moving fast toward our having no rights. We’re having trouble with the FBI again. This is a test case here on the Peninsula. It they can get away with these checkpoints here, they will try it everywhere.”

One young woman who lives near Forks was at the meeting with her little girl. She is four months pregnant with her second child. She asked this reporter not to use her name but told a story of being victimized by the Border Patrol. Her husband, an undocumented immigrant, was on his way to work last winter when his pickup spun out of control on icy Highway 101. He ended up in the ditch and left the vehicle to go for help. A patrol car stopped and the officer hailed him by name. He was arrested and deported. “He was arrested on charges of ‘leaving the scene of an accident’ even though no other vehicle was involved,” she said. “He was working every day to support us. Now I am the sole support. I work here in Port Angeles. We live with this fear every day.”

Another woman said her husband, too, is undocumented. They live in constant fear that he will be caught in the dragnet and deported to Honduras. Their small business had prospered until the current crackdown. Now Latinos, their main clientele, are afraid to venture out to shop in her store. “I’m being forced out of business,” she told the World. “We live under this cloud of fear all the time. I’m an American citizen but I live like he lives. I don’t want them to take my husband.”