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Women in Business Special Section


– pages 11 to 22

Serving Orcas, Lopez and San Juan County

WEDNESDAY, October 24, 2012  VOL. 45, NO. 43  75¢

The face of deportation Orcas Island resident is being sent back to Mexico after 14 years by CALI BAGBY Staff reporter

When a neighbor, Natalie White, suffered a stroke it was Benjamin Nunez Marquez who agreed to drive her to the hospital. She was afraid of flying and Nunez volunteered – thinking he had nothing to fear. But in that act of kindness everything would change. It was also an act that coincided with border patrol upping the ante at the Anacortes ferry terminal. Nunez was stopped as he and Natalie drove off the ferry and, when questioned, it became apparent that Nunez was not a U.S. citizen, thus starting him on a path including public outcry, an outpouring of support and a oneway ticket back to Mexico. “He found out not just who his friends were,” said his supervisor Pete Helsell. “But that everyone was his friend,” Nunez, as he is called by locals, was one of eight people taken into custody for possible immigration violations in 2008 after border patrol agents began questioning ferry riders arriving from the San Juans about their citizenship during “spot checks” at the Anacortes ferry terminal. The incident caused an uproar in the islands’ communities and

attracted attention from regional and national media. County Councilman Howie Rosenfeld was interviewed by National Public Radio. Rosenfeld conceded that the U.S. Border Patrol had the authority to conduct its inspections but wondered whether race may have been a factor as those taken into custody were Mexican. Meanwhile, Nunez’s employers, Jack and Jan Helsell, owners of West Sound Lumber Company, hired lawyers and applied for a year-long extension on the deportation so that they could find someone to fill his position at the mill. Local resident Elly Hoague helped to collect letters written by Nunez’s numerous friends on the island and there was even support from Congressman Norm Dicks and Sen. Patty Murray. According to Jeffrey D. Jones, a public affairs officer for Border Control, if a person is found to be an illegal immigrant at a checkpoint they will be refused entry to the U.S. or put into removal proceedings. Once in the process of removal the person cannot apply for citizenship and their fate is determined by an immigration judge. Once they are deported, they can apply for legal status,

but there is a time requirement dependent on multiple factors, said Jones. Nunez said, if possible, he would apply for permanent resident status, but that, following his deportation, he would have to wait in Mexico for 10 years. In February his one-year extension was approved, but now Nunez is scheduled to be deported in four months. But the Helsells have yet to find anything close to a replacement. After placing ads in various media they realized most applicants were either unable to operate the oldfashioned mill or could not relocate to the islands. “He’s an important part of the business – we would be struggling to exist without him,” said Pete, Jack’s nephew who is taking over the mill business. “We needed an extension, but we should have asked for 10 more years.”

Life and loss Nunez left Mexico in 1998 in hopes for a better life and he found one at the sawmill. He was 22 years old and spoke no English when he started the job. When Nunez came to the mill he worked as a helper to the main operator. When the other man departed in 2002,

Nunez took on both positions. Over the years he learned to read and write in English and learned the trade through job training. Nunez is now 36 and works as the sawyer, heavy equipment operator, mechanic, and delivery truck driver. He also manages lumber inventory, oversees the sawmill yard, cuts and delivers logs to the mill and produces cords of firewood. “It was like being in school,” said Nunez. “When I first came here I did not know how to use a wrench, I had never driven a car or used a chainsaw. It sounds

Preliminary county budget totals $47.6 million by STEVE WEHRLY Journal reporter

San Juan County Administrator Bob Jean has presented the county council with a preliminary budget totaling $47.6 million for 2013. The proposed budget represents a five-percent reduction from this year’s $50 million budget. No programs are eliminated, but the budget assumes a reduction of 3.2 “full time equivalent” jobs, although actual worker layoffs are not expected. Total county revenues from all sources are estimated to increase by slightly more than $1

million, including $600,000 from the voterapproved Public Safety Sales Tax and small reductions from other tax sources and from grants for various county programs. Jean’s covering memorandum points out that implementation of budget stabilization measures enacted by the county council should result in the county reaching budget stabilization goals in each of the next three years. Budget stabilization has been achieved at least in part through a series of reserve policies approved by the council, including a required 10 percent ending fund balance, a budget stabilization fund, and mandatory debt service reserve balances.

Budget discussions with most county departments were scheduled for a “special meeting” of the council on Oct. 15. The Public Works, Roads, and Capital Improvement Plan budgets are set for further discussion on Monday, Oct. 29. Public comment will be taken following presentation of all budget sections. The council has tentatively set formal public hearings and further council consideration for Nov. 6, with more public comment, discussion and final adoption of the budget ordinances scheduled for Nov. 20. The deadline for budget adoption, as required by the county charter, is Dec. 16.

Contributed photo

Benjamin Nunez Marquez

funny, but it’s true.” It was also a job, he learned, of sacrifice and danger. In 2003, Nunez lost two fingers in a mill accident. Despite the hardships,


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Islands' Sounder, October 24, 2012  

October 24, 2012 edition of the Islands' Sounder

Islands' Sounder, October 24, 2012  

October 24, 2012 edition of the Islands' Sounder