Orcas Island tries to protect skilled immigrant facing deportation

"People on Orcas Island are uniting around the sole operator of a small family-run sawmill there, saying his scheduled deportation to Mexico this month could force that business closed and harm the region’s economy.  Owners of West Sound Lumber, where Benjamin Nuñez-Marquez has milled native timber for 15 years, have told immigration authorities that in two years of trying they’ve been unable to find anyone to replace him.  Jack Helsell, 90, who designed and built the operation four decades ago, said those with the knowledge and skill to run the mill’s antique circular saw are well into their 70s now and can’t be expected to work that hard.  And his family, Helsell said, can’t afford to upgrade.  “I didn’t realize how rare he was,” Helsell said of his sawyer.  “What we found from all the advertising is that nobody could or wanted to do that job.”  The San Juan Builders Association has written the federal government on Nuñez’s behalf, as has the San Juan County Economic Development Council, which said his deportation, “would adversely affect the economy here as well as the livelihood of many Orcas Island business owners and residents.”  Building contractors, who depend on West Sound for much of their custom-milled lumber, have written that its loss would devastate their businesses.  In fact, close to 100 residents and businesses on the island, including public officials and former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, have written letters and about 300 of them have signed a petition to keep Nuñez, who is in the country illegally.  Local women have offered to marry the 38-year-old bachelor.  Sen. Patty Murray said that in her 21 years in office, she has never seen this level and intensity of support for a single individual. In addition to a mountain of letters, her office has fielded hundreds of calls.  In a rare move, she wrote to the head of the Department of Homeland Security asking for his help.  Sen. Maria Cantwell and U.S. Reps. Rick Larsen and Jim McDermott also signed that letter." - Seattle Times, Apr. 10, 2014.