Border Patrol considers permanent checkpoint

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(Host) The U.S. Border Patrol is considering a plan to make a temporary checkpoint on Interstate 91 permanent. Senator Patrick Leahy says he’ll oppose the plan but Governor Jim Douglas says he may support it.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Under federal law, the Border Patrol is allowed to set up a checkpoint within one hundred miles of the international border. The temporary facility just south of White River Junction was put into place in December of 2003. All motorists are stopped and are briefly interrogated by federal officials.

John Pfeiffer is the assistant chief Patrol Officer based in Swanton. He says in the past seventeen months, more than 640 people have been detained on immigration charges at the Interstate 91 checkpoint. It’s a location that was chosen for a very specific reason.

(Pfeiffer) “The location there in White River Junction has been deemed to be a strategic point where they want to screen that traffic. It’s the primary route between Montreal and New York City. So yes, Interstate 91 is a major corridor for traffic that would run from those metropolitan areas in Canada to the eastern seaboard of the United States.”

(Kinzel) Pfeiffer says the I-91 checkpoint offers a secondary line of enforcement for the Border Patrol. And he says the agency is often able to gather important information from the people who are apprehended.

(Pfeiffer) “When we arrest these people we develop intelligence and we can gauge weak spots in the border and find out where they crossed, when they crossed and how they came through undetected.”

(Kinzel) Governor Jim Douglas says he has an open mind about this proposal. He wants to discuss the plan with both local and federal officials because he thinks there may be some benefits to the proposal.

(Douglas) There is an economic impact. There are ten to twenty employees who are stationed in the area. And that’s obviously of some economic benefit to the region. The town is a key partner in this. And of course, we have some interest in upgrading the facilities at the Hartford rest area anyway.”

(Kinzel) Senator Patrick Leahy is strongly opposed to the plan. Leahy thinks the project is a waste of money.

(Leahy) “Right now, one of the most important things to do is to help our undermanned people right at the border to be able to move people through to move commerce, tourists and everything else through, and at the same time look for terrorists. If you’re a terrorist you’re not going to take the interstate and say: ‘By the way, I should drive down the interstate where I’ll hit a checkpoint.’ You know, there’s a million ways of going down without going from the northern part of the state to the southern part of the state without taking the interstate.”

(Kinzel) Officials at Border Patrol headquarters in Washington D.C. are reviewing the plan to make the checkpoint a permanent facility – a decision is expected in the coming months.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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