New Border Patrol chief a Blaine native
By Tara Nelson
A Blaine high school graduate has been appointed to replace chief of the U.S. Border Patrol’s Blaine sector.
John Bates, a former Blaine resident and 1980 Blaine high school graduate, replaced Ron Henley as of Chief Patrol Agent, a position that is responsible for oversight of border enforcement operations along the 89 miles of international boundary with Canada and 163 miles along Washington’s coast.
During a special ceremony Thursday at Bellingham’s Lakeway Inn hotel, Bates was recognized by local law enforcement officials and fellow border agents decked in dress uniforms and sporting rifles and was handed a ceremonial flag from Henley, signifying the change in power.
Bates will also assume the role of Field Commander for CBP Air and Marine Operations, a position that includes the oversight of four Border Patrol stations, the Bellingham Air and Marine Branch and, over 200 Officer Corps and support staff.
‘Cowboys of a sort’
Bates began his career in 1985 as a Border Patrol agent at the San Clemente checkpoint station in California after graduating with his Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice from University of Washington earlier that year.
“As I was preparing to graduate, I was looking for a job in law enforcement,” he said. “I really lucked out with the U.S. Border Patrol.”
Life was exciting, he said, with as many as two to three high-speed pursuits a day as drug and human smugglers fled the checkpoint. Arrests of undocumented people were often 100 at a time.
As a field agent, Bates said there were no routines for the day. Every day was different and agents were required to finish assignments started that day, which often made for long days.
“You were done when you were done,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain it other than it was like living the best episodes of ‘COPS’ almost every day.”
Despite the long work hours and the often “terrible” weather, Bates said the camaraderie of the agency kept him from leaving.
“We all have stories. When we get together, one tale leads to another. We are cowboys of a sort. We have all worked the trail and come home dusty.”
There were also the funny moments such as the short Mexican man from the state of Oaxaca who was apprehended on a bus after he handed border agents a green card belonging to Canadian actor Keifer Sullivan.
Or the time he and fellow agents were yelled at by an impatient William Shatner, attempting to schmooze his way past the checkpoint line-up by means of his celebrity status.
“He lowered his sunglasses and asked ‘Would it help if I told you I was William Shatner?’” he said. “And my friend looked at him and said ‘Beam it over there, Bill.’ And sent him to secondary inspection.
A 23-year veteran
Bates has since served as a supervisory Border Patrol agent and Field Operations supervisor at San Clemente, as deputy assistant regional director at the former Western Regional Office; deputy chief patrol agent in Blaine, chief patrol agent in Detroit, Michigan.
Bates also served as an officer in the Army National Guard and Reserves prior to entering the Border Patrol.
He currently lives in Lynden with his wife and three daughters, ages 14, 16 and 19.
The years ahead
Bates said he will continue to address security issues on the northern border by working to acquire more agents and technological resources from the federal government and also continuing to build on their partnership with Canadian and local law enforcement agencies.
“By increasing our presence on the water, in the air and on the land between ports of entry, we increase the likelihood of apprehension of those who attempt to violate our laws,” he said. “The policies and laws we currently have are sufficient but what we need is the tools, manpower and funding to support the mission.”
When asked about if and when the agency will begin using unmanned Predator aircraft to patrol the skies above the 49th parallel, Bates said he was not sure.
“The Predator aircraft will be evaluated in our area,” he said. “The outcome of that evaluation will determine whether or not we receive the Predator permanently or request it in support of operations on an as-needed basis.”
Among some of the things Bates said he would like to see happen during his tenure is an increased cooperation between the Border Patrol and the U.S. Forest Service and more reliance on horsepower, rather than gas-powered off-road vehicles.
“I believe that a horse patrol unit would be operationally effective and also environmentally friendly to the national parks,” he said.