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Editorial: Border Patrol checkpoints waste our money, and our time

  • U.S. Border Patrol officers stop traffic at the Hartford, Vt., rest area on Interstate 91 South on March 3, 2005. (Valley News - David M. Barreda) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Published: 6/22/2019 10:10:17 PM
Modified: 6/22/2019 10:10:15 PM

Congratulations to the U.S. Border Patrol. Its recent checkpoint on Route 2 in northwestern Vermont bagged one individual alleged to be “illegally present” in the country, according to the news site VtDigger. And it only took stopping 900 vehicles and questioning their occupants to pull off this critical feat of border enforcement.

Actually, it went better for the Border Patrol than the last time it set up a dragnet on the same stretch of road. In May, no arrests or property seizures were made. U.S. Customs and Border Protection describes these roving checkpoints as “a vital tool” to ensure national security. More likely, they are an exercise in futility and squandered resources.

As usual, an agency spokesman declined to say why the checkpoints were established where they were or what national security interests were being pursued that required abridging the Fourth Amendment rights of hundreds of Vermonters and travelers from other places. In fact, the public only knows how many vehicles were stopped at this month’s checkpoint because, again according to VtDigger, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy provided the number, which the agency spokesman declined to confirm, perhaps for obvious reasons.

What these two checkpoints did confirm was the prediction the state’s congressional delegation made last fall after being notified that Customs and Border Protection intended to stage another round of checkpoints in Vermont. “While these checkpoints will cause needless delays for travelers and hinder commerce between Vermont and Canada, we are not convinced that they will make Vermont or the United States any safer,” they wrote.

Going through these checkpoints is indeed a hassle, as readers may recall from the ones erected for long periods years ago on Interstate 91 in Hartford and, for briefer periods, on Interstate 89 in Lebanon. But as the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont has pointed out, the bigger issue is that, absent suspicion of wrongdoing, stopping a line of cars to question their occupants about their citizenship status is inimical to an open society and makes a mockery of the constitutional right to be free from unreasonable, warrantless searches and seizures.

And as we can personally attest, the Border Patrol agents do not always confine themselves to inquiring about citizenship status, although they are supposed to. “Where are you going today?” and “What are you going to do there?” are two such questions that have been asked. Of course, motorists don’t have to answer agents’ questions, but they then risk being detained from the pursuit of their daily lives even longer while agents verify their citizenship status. (The ACLU-VT has assembled a useful guide to individual rights in dealing with the Border Patrol, which is available on its website, acluvt.org.)

Leahy, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch all support legislation to shrink the zone in which the Border Patrol can operate these checkpoints from 100 miles from the border to 25. Since nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population resides within 100 miles of a border, that would restore Fourth Amendment protections for a lot of people.

Until that happens, though, the Border Patrol ought at least to be required to make public basic information about the yield of each of these checkpoints, including how many vehicles were stopped; how many people questioned; how many were arrested or detained and on what basis; and how much money was spent to conduct them. A 1-for-900 batting average requires some explanation.




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