Almost a year ago to the day, David Beebe, the director of the Oregon bureau for the INS, resigned in disgrace. After complaints piled up that local agents were abusing its power, indefinitely locking up immigrants, and hassling foreign travelers, local politicians said enough was enough.

The final straw was when a Japanese businesswoman, passing through PDX to New York, was strip-searched, handcuffed, and driven to a jail in The Dalles for no apparent reason. After the incident, Delta airlines canceled flights from Asia to PDX, and politicians from Mayor Katz to Governor Kitzhaber demanded that the INS rein it in. In response, Director Beebe resigned.

However, in light of mounting fear of terrorism, most notably airplane hijackings, public opinion seems to have swung away from basic liberties and back towards unmitigated discretionary powers for federal agents--especially concerning foreign travelers or citizens with ethnic backgrounds. With no protests from politicians, two men were detained at PDX last weekend by federal agents. Allegedly, their immigration papers were not in order.

In the week following the hijacking of four commercial airliners, there has been widespread hype about increased security. Numerous flights have been canceled, airlines have proposed installing sealed compartments for pilots, and the federal government has announced plans for undercover U.S. Marshals to escort flights. (The original U.S. Marshal program was started by President Nixon after three commercial airliners were hijacked in 1973; all three planes were blown up by the hijackers after the passengers were released.)

At present, the exact extent to which security measures will compromise travelers' liberties has yet to be determined. Although unwilling to detail changes at PDX, Beth Anne Steele, an FBI spokesperson, told the Mercury that they have "significantly" increased the presence of agents at PDX. Furthermore, the restaurant and coffee shops located beyond security checks will no longer be allowed to store anything more threatening than plastic utensils.

At the same time, last week the ACLU roadblocked a federal law proposed by Attorney General John Ashcroft that would have granted enhanced powers for federal agents to detain and deport suspicious foreign travelers.

The INS and FBI have refused to comment on the reasons two men were detained at PDX. Neither was on FBI wanted lists or had any known connections to terrorist networks. One was released on Monday; the other was held in custody for five days.