Named after a character in a cowboy book, Police Chief Flint Wright describes himself as pretty conservative.
A portrait of Ronald Reagan hangs in his office, along with photos of John Wayne, and his father and grandfather on horses — capturing the rural lifestyle of Pacific County, which curves around Willapa Bay in the state’s southwest corner.
He doesn’t talk about it much, but he voted for Donald Trump, helping Pacific County go with the Republican presidential candidate for the first time in decades. Among other things, he liked Trump’s promise to secure the borders. Economic migrants are not a problem in his mind — he’s seen how hard they work — but he wondered, “who’s coming with them?” Terrorists, he feared.
Then came the July arrest of Mario Rodriguez by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“I was kind of in shock, to be blunt with you,” Wright said.
Rodriguez, whose visa had expired, had lived in the area for more than a dozen years. He had worked in bilingual education and periodically tipped police to trouble spots.
“He was real pro-law enforcement,” the police chief said. “Shoot, anybody would like to have him as a neighbor.”
Trump, on the campaign, had talked about kicking out Mexican “drug dealers, criminals, rapists.” And that’s the kind of immigration crackdown a lot of people here were expecting.
“Yeah, we don’t want that element,” Wright said. But Rodriguez? The police chief couldn’t believe sending him back to Mexico would do anybody any good.
That kind of shock is reverberating throughout the county as Trump’s toughened immigration policy hits home. ICE has arrested at least 28 people in the county this year, according to numbers provided to the Sheriff’s Office.
While that’s just a small share of the roughly 3,100 ICE arrests overseen by its regional office in Seattle — which covers Washington, Oregon and Alaska — it represents a pronounced upward trajectory. Last year, ICE reported eight Pacific County arrests to the sheriff and for a long stretch of years before that, zero.
Who could have guessed that voting for a racist would lead to racist policies?
The work can be grueling, particularly in the seafood industry. At sunrise or midnight, workers might be out on the bay’s mudflats, taking advantage of low tide to dig for clams and oysters.
“It is not the case that immigrants are the only ones applying,” said shellfish farmer Marilyn Sheldon. “It is the case that immigrants are the only ones willing to stick it out.”
Some are here legally. Some are not.
So ICE represents a threat that has a huge “ripple effect,” said Steve Gray, a seafood-cannery owner who was boiling crabs one afternoon in his backyard.
“We don’t have Nike. We don’t have Boeing. This is what we do down here,” he said. “Take the main workforce out … you will lose whole industries.”
Huh. Maybe consider that before voting for a fascist who promised you ethnic cleansing?
Agents also targeted Gladys Diaz, in an unusual way.
According to her longtime boyfriend, who works in the seafood industry and spoke on the condition of anonymity, Diaz posted an online ad for a piñata she had made. The man who answered it asked to meet in the parking lot of a bank rather than the address she offered.
It seemed a little suspicious.
“Don’t go, Gladys,” her boyfriend yelled as she drove away that June day with their young daughters. She either didn’t hear or didn’t listen.
Shortly afterward, while he did yard work around their apartment complex, he saw ICE agents walking toward him with his family. They were handing over the kids and taking Diaz away. His 12-year-old was crying.
“Why you don’t take us all?” he asked.
They said Diaz had a prior deportation order. A decade ago, she was caught sneaking across the border, sent back and prohibited from re-entering the U.S. for years, according to her boyfriend. She tried again the very next day, and made it.
ICE agents are scum. These people are literally entraping undocumented immigrants with kids. These are the worst Americans. If you know anyone who works for ICE, you should publicly humiliate them.
Feeling overburdened by environmental regulations, many also believe that “Seattle politics are completely against rural Washington,” Malin added.
If that factored into the county’s Trump vote, so did health care — at least for Malin. A sharp critic of Trump, whom she doesn’t consider a true conservative, she didn’t know who she was going to vote for.
Right before the election, she got an insurance-renewal notice informing her that she could no longer see her doctors across the Columbia River in Oregon. She blamed Obamacare regulations.
“I reached over, took out my ballot — and did not vote for Hillary,” she said, talking over tea in her 1905 house, built when the peninsula served as a getaway for Portland’s gentry.
Many also liked what they heard from Trump on immigration, she said, even if it played a minor role in their vote.
“Sure, people want to see a wall built,” she said. “They want sanity in immigration.”
But the way ICE is carrying out Trump’s policy locally, described in poignant detail by a Chinook Observer series called “Stories from the Heart” — “none of the Republicans I talk to are happy,” she said.
“We shouldn’t be ripping families apart,” Malin said. “It seems very Gestapo.”
In conclusion, if you don’t like the American Gestapo, don’t vote for the candidate supported by Nazis. Thanks white people.