Saturday, June 18, 2011

"Twilight" Town's Immigration Debate

In December, a forest worker named Virgilio invited me to photograph him work. He was later deported.

Forks _ the town better known to the world as the fictional setting for the "Twilight" series _ is in the midst of a fierce debate over immigration. In recent years, Border Patrol expanded its presence there, beefing up patrols in the town. That has clashed with the immigrant community there, which has many members working illegally in the country. They work in the forests, collecting salal leaves for the floral ornamental industry.

I visited in December after hearing of complaints from immigrant rights advocates for a couple of months. They were worried that the immigrant community was being targeted by Border Patrol. The complaints about Border Patrol weren't new. A couple of years ago, there was a flare up over the use of road blocks to check people driving on the highways of the Olympic Peninsula.

For its part, Border Patrol says it's just doing its job, which is enforce the laws of the land.

The result is a natural clash, like lions hunting wildebeest, a cycle that never ends.

 For my visit, I photographed forest workers and the town, as well as talked to many townsfolk. Later on, photographer Ted Warren did a ride-along with a Border Patrol agent, who was quite candid about the agency's role.

But I had to shelve the story after I went down to Olympia for legislative coverage.

In May, a man named Benjamin Salinas, a forest worker, jumped into a frigid and swollen river, fleeing from a Border Patrol agent. His body was later found decomposing.

His death has put a spot light on the clash here between Border Patrol and immigrants.

And free from Olympia, I was able to finally write a story.

Forest workers carry salal leaves.
The town of Forks is tiny.

Initial complaints were that Border Patrol agents were approaching Latinos outside the local courthouse asking about their immigration status.

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