- Associated Press - Saturday, June 18, 2011

FORKS, WASH. (AP) - Benjamin Roldan Salinas, a forest worker in the country illegally, leapt into the frigid Sol Duc River to escape a pursuing U. S. Border Patrol Agent, disappearing into the fast-moving waters.

For more than three weeks, his family, friends and volunteers _ including other illegal immigrants _ scoured the dense forest along the swollen river’s banks for any sign of him.

The Border Patrol suspected that Salinas had survived and fled. Still, as many as 150 people at a time continued to look.

“They believed he was out there somewhere because he hadn’t gone home,” Clallam County Sheriff’s Sergeant Brian King said.

The search ended June 4 when a family friend spotted the 43-year-old Salinas‘ bloated, decomposing body entangled in roots downstream, according to the sheriff’s report.

His death heightened tensions in what has become a protracted engagement between the Border Patrol and the immigrant population of Forks _ the small, remote Washington town best known as the fictional home of the vampire series “Twilight.”

“We talk about Arizona, Texas and the southern border…it’s here. It’s in our backyard,” said Forks Mayor Bryon Monohon, about immigration enforcement efforts in his town. “It really is just an atmosphere of fear.”

Border Patrol agents have questioned citizens and arrested illegal immigrants leaving the Forks courthouse. They’ve chased migrants working as pickers for the decorative floral industry in nearby forests.

The crackdown has spurred immigrants and their allies to develop a warning system using phones and text messages any time a Border Patrol car is spotted, according to interviews with Border Patrol officials, town leaders, and immigrant advocates.

The agency says that it is simply following its mandate: Enforcing the country’s immigration laws, protecting the border and shoreline from terrorists, drug smugglers and other illegal activity. Forks is just another locale where the nation’s immigration laws are being violated, officials said.

“We continue to go out there and do the same mission as we would right along the border,” said Border Patrol agent Chris Dyer, after a patrol of the town in March. “Our style doesn’t really change. I think they just don’t understand the full scope of our duties.”

The northwest border was thrust into the spotlight when Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian national who was convicted on multiple counts for his millennium plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport, was caught by Customs and Border Protection agents in 1999 as he drove off a ferry in Port Angeles, Wash. with explosives in the trunk of his car.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush ordered CBP to beef up its presence on the U.S.-Canada border, almost twice as long as the U.S.-Mexico border. Starting In 2007, the federal government began increasing immigration enforcement efforts in Washington state and along the northern border.

Before that, Monohon said, the Border Patrol was rarely seen in Forks.

Border Patrol enforcement practices common on the southern border, such as highway checkpoints, were implemented, miffing residents on the Olympic Peninsula, the area’s congressman and local authorities. Agents also conducted more Northwest-accented actions, including checking cars on ferries. As objections mounted, the road checkpoints were cut back. Agents still board passenger buses bound for Seattle as part of their routine security efforts.

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