The small town of Lynden, Washington, 10 miles northeast of Bellingham and several miles south of the Canadian border, looks like "a town that time forgot." Farms dot the landscape around town. Stores are still closed on Sunday. High school sports are a big thing and so is church, especially the various Reformed Churches, Dutch Reformed, Christian Reformed, and Reformed Church in America.
But Lynden and other towns like it in Whatcom County are something else, something that may not be as obvious to the casual observer. They are the front lines of the current Border Wars. Just this week, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano took politicians to task for fanning the flames of the border wars, with scary stories of crime waves and invading hordes. The facts are otherwise. The number of border crossings, legal and illegal, is way down. Crime along the border is, too.
Referencing politicians frequent claims that "the border is overrun with violence and is out of control," Napolitano said: "This statement, often made to score political points, is just plain wrong.”
But it turns out there is a profit to be made in sounding the alarm by relentlessly repeating, "the borders are out of control.” There’s political profit. It’s an attention- and vote-grabber.
And there’s financial profit. It puts money in state coffers. Last year Texas got $600 million from DHS, which Texas Gov. Rick Perry described as a "good start."
Corporations also profit from the Border Wars, one of larger ones being Boeing. In January, Napolitano pulled the plug on a Boeing project that has cost U.S. taxpayers a quick $1 billion since 2006 with nothing to show for it. The SBI.net ("Secure Border Initiative") was touted as creating a "virtual" electronic fence along the 1,800 miles of border with Mexico. After five years and a billion dollars, 53 miles of the border had a largely ineffective SBI. Congressman Bennie Thompson, ranking Democratic member of the House Homeland Security Committee, described SBI.net as, "a grave and expensive disappointment."
A drive in the country around Lynden is a different experience than a country drive in my grandparents' day. You're apt to run into multiple Border Patrol agents in SUVs on the prowl amid the berry patches and manure piles. If you look up, you'll notice cameras perched atop phone poles — DHS surveillance cameras. Many don't work. Their installation has "political boondoggle" written all over it. Though you probably won't see it, there could be a Predator Drone in the sky above, flying at an altitude of 20,000 to 50,000 feet. Seven Predators currently patrol the U.S. borders, each requiring an initial $11.5 million investment. You may also spot, or at nighttime hear, one of the Border Patrol's black helicopters, which often hover so low above local farms that farmers complain of earthquake-like vibrations.
Customs and Border Protection is one arm of the Department of Homeland Security, which is now the largest police or law-enforcement agency in the U.S. DHS is the third largest department of the federal government, exceeded only by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
There’s a new Border Patrol facility in Lynden, another new one in nearby Sumas, and an enlarged one in Blaine. Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce President Ken Oplinger says that the number of CBP personnel at the Blaine site has "more than doubled since 9/11." Recently, DHS purchased the former plant of Louws Truss, a longtime maker of wooden trusses, in Ferndale. With that $4.5 million acquisition, DHS has another 40,000 square foot complex for yet another new installation in Whatcom County.
"No one knows exactly how many employees DHS has in Whatcom County because they won’t tell us," said Bellingham attorney, Greg Boos. "In 2009 the Whatcom County Sheriff put the number at 900, but it"s grown a lot since then." Boos, an immigration attorney and longtime Bellingham resident, also notes that the effect of the DHS employees on life in the county is different than it was for a long time. "It used to be a relatively small number and Border Patrol people lived here and were involved in the community," Boos said. "They were invested. But now DHS is rotating personnel through here on short-term assignments, maybe two-year stays. They aren't involved in the community. They won't vote, for example, on school bond elections."
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