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Latino enclave scatters as border agents move in

All photos by Mike Kane / Marguerite Casey Foundation

Arsenio Bravo looks up at a passing car while picking salal, a leafy green shrub sold for floral arrangements around the world, in the forest between Forks and La Push, Wash., on the Olympic Peninsula, in March 2012. Bravo was drawn to the area more than a decade ago from his native Oaxaca, Mexico. Picking salal gave Bravo the ability to start and support a family. He lives in Forks with his wife and son.

By Kathy Mulady

Latino families began moving to the sleepy, rural town of Forks, Wash., in the 1980s, attracted by the quiet and willing to work at low-paying jobs left behind when the logging industry faded. The men pick salal, a green plant commonly used in floral arrangements, or cut cedar shingles in the woods, making enough to support their families.

But now the town—200 miles from the Canadian border and 1,300 miles from the Mexican border—has turned into an unexpected focus of the U.S. Border Patrol. 

Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Joe Romero calls in the license plate of a vehicle that he suspects belongs to undocumented salal pickers on a remote forest access road near Port Angeles, Wash. Border agents are aware of the areas that salal pickers tend to work, and know that often salal pickers are undocumented immigrants. A high percentage of the undocumented immigrants deported from the Olympic Peninsula are initially detained in the forest while picking salal.

In the last few years, the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents has increased six-fold along the U.S.– Canadian Border. In September, when a new $9.8 million field office opened in Port Angeles, on Washington States’ remote Olympic Peninsula, the number of agents at the station grew ten times, from four people in 2006 to 42 now. There is room for 50 agents in the new building. 

Isabel, 10, sits with her mother Marta and father Victor in their home in Forks. Victor is undocumented and picks salal to support the family. Marta, a U.S. citizen, worries about Victor getting deported and how that would effect Isabel and Victor Jr., Isabel's 9-year-old brother. Both kids are U.S. citizens and would likely stay in the U.S. with their mother. (Last names withheld at subjects' request).

The smell of wood smoke is ubiquitous after a late-season snowfall in the trailer park neighborhoods of Forks, where many immigrant families live.

American-born Edgar Ruiz Garcia, 10 months old, looks out from his family's home in a trailer park neighborhood in Forks. Edgar's father is an undocumented salal picker who runs the risk of deportation daily by picking in the forests. Edgar is being held by his aunt, whose husband was arrested while picking salal in the forest and subsequently deported back to Mexico.

Agents are charged with preventing terrorists and their weapons of terrorism from entering the country, and apprehension of anyone or anything illegally entering the country.

With the increased presence of U.S. border patrol agents, the decades-old Latino community is dispersing, fearing deportations that can divide families. About 75 percent of the Latino families have left, and business owners say they are suffering.

See more images of immigration in PhotoBlog.

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