An immigration showdown is brewing on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, where simmering tensions and borderline hostility have fueled a turf war between the local community and the Border Patrol agents assigned to protect it.
Now the American Civil Liberties Union has jumped into the ring and upped the ante, rolling out a campaign that will install signs inside buses informing riders of their rights — to ignore Border Patrol agents.
The signs, entitled, "YOUR RIGHTS with border patrol agents on this bus," makes three points:
• If you're a U.S. citizen, you don't have to prove it.
• If you're not a U.S. citizen and are 18 or older, you must show your immigration papers to federal agents.
• Everyone has the right to remain silent.
The campaign, which could start as early as next week, is the latest in a series of expanding grassroots efforts aimed at curbing the expansion of Border Patrol forces and the powers of its agents.
Last summer the Border Patrol beefed up its presence in the region, and in October it began conducting random roadside stops at checkpoints located at and within the international border to combat, what it says, is a real threat to national security.
This move has put them at odds with human rights groups and even local law enforcement — some who have rejected federal immigration money to protest the Border Patrol's tactics.
The ACLU has joined forces with left-leaning groups around the state — lavender farmers, retirees, activists, grandparents, Socialists, Green Party members, politicians, Unitarians, Christians, vineyard owners, hippies and other assorted protesters — who say these measures have infringed on people's civil liberties.
The ACLU says it is just informing frightened residents, U.S. citizens and immigrants — both legal and illegal — of their rights.
They say Border Patrol agents spend their time rounding up illegal immigrants well inland of the border and wasting their resources and manpower by conducting immigration status checks on local buses and at random checkpoints on roads well inside the border.
"They set up random checkpoints, no suspicion of criminal activity or no suspicion they'd even near the border, continued to follow and stop random people and demand citizenship information from them," said Jennifer Shaw, Deputy Director of the ACLU Washington. "They go up to folks and say, 'Are you a citizen?"
But critics of the ACLU campaign say it is designed to give illegal immigrants — and possibly terrorists — a playbook for evading federal law enforcement agents working to secure one of the most dangerous and porous borders in the country at a time when the threat to national security is particularly high.
"These are the places that terrorists or criminals would use to egress away from the border. There are only a few ways to get in," said Michael Bermudez, U.S. Border Patrol spokesman in Blaine, Wash., of the recent bus-sign campaign.
Bermudez said there's good reason for Border Patrol agents to be pursuing illegal immigrants.
"We're concerned with securing the areas between ports of entry, concerned with preventing terrorists and their mass weapons of terrorism," he said.
ACLU's pamphlets and signs will be posted inside buses that will pick up and drop off passengers at the Port Angeles ferry terminal -- right across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Victoria, B.C.
That's where Algerian-born Ahmed Ressam docked on American soil in 1999 with explosives in the trunk of his car and a plan to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Eve. The "Millennium Bomber" was apprehended by Customs and Border agents and is currently serving a 22-year sentence.
Border Patrol agents also point out that the 2010 Winter Olympics will be held in Vancouver, not far from the crossing.
"Heightened border security is not only appropriate, it is necessary," Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA), ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, told FOXNews.com.
"We've got the Olympics coming up. Do you know what terrorists want? Terrorists want to make the biggest splash they can to impair different countries with a different world view than they have, and making that splash at the Olympics is got to be close to the top of their list, if not the top."
Lois Danks, 62, of Sequim, Wash., who manages computer systems for a state health center, said people live in a constant state of anxiety and fear.
"The Border Patrol SUV starts driving down the middle of a street out of nowhere — and it's pretty quiet out here — it's pretty scary even if you're a citizen," said Danks. "That's not American values."
Dank, is also a coordinator of the Stop the Checkpoints Committee, a grassroots umbrella group comprised of splinter organizations — religious, spiritual, civil rights, human rights and assorted interest groups — from all over the state of Washington that are working with the ACLU to circulate petitions and protest the Border Patrol.
She said that the group is planning a "big, big" march on International Women's Day, March 7.
Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., also a member of the Homeland Security Committee, sent a letter to the agency's new secretary, Janet Napolitano, on February 9, calling for an investigation into the Border Patrol's tactics on the Olympic Peninsula.
Dicks' chief of staff George Behan said the Washington state lawmaker will, possibly as early as next week, get an audience with Napolitano.
He said one of the main issues Dicks wants to discuss with Napolitano is how best to utilize the Border Patrol, which is now spending much of its time away focusing on finding and detaining illegal immigrants. "The issue is limited amount of resources," Behan said. "The payoff seems to be pretty minimal. It's largely farm workers," he said. "This isn't Al Qaeda."
But Lungren said the danger is real and the actions of the agents fall within Border Patrol guidelines.
"There is nothing that we ask our Border Patrol agents to do that's inconsistent with our constitutions," Lungren told FOXNews.com. "There are certain questions that they ask at the border or within reasonable distance from the border because they're at the border or within reasonable distance from the border — and that's considered reasonable."
As for the community upset about Border Patrol agents on buses, the target of the new campaign the ACLU is rolling out, Lungren said that the general public isn't always privy to national security issues.
"People should be not surprised that Border Patrol should be asking people on conveyances moving from north to south these questions."