The note from U.S. Attorney Jeff Sullivan to the U.S. Border Patrol was short and to the point: Stop sending petty marijuana cases to his office. “It is our long-standing policy to use limited federal resources to pursue the sophisticated criminal organizations who smuggle millions of dollars of drugs, guns and other contraband across our borders,” Sullivan wrote in November. Sullivan’s note is one in a string of flare-ups as the Border Patrol expanded its influence and manpower in Washington state in recent months. The marijuana busts had come from inland roadblocks on Washington state highways.
Sheriff’s offices, farmers and a U.S. congressman have all made their opinion about the patrol’s increased presence known, and not all of it has been friendly. The clashes cast light on the expanded power of the agency along the country’s northern border. More than 1,100 agents have been added to the Canadian border since Sept. 11, 2001, four times its presence before the terrorist attacks. Hundreds more agents are to be hired next year. Agents can set up roadblocks up to 100 miles from the border, board passenger buses and patrol transportation hubs that are not near the border. This authority, relatively new in Washington, has stirred controversy.