Border Patrol wants 1-91 checkpoint to be permanent

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(Host) The Border Patrol wants to install a permanent checkpoint on Interstate 91 south of White River Junction. Authorities say a temporary checkpoint there has led to the arrest of hundreds of people who were in the country illegally.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) For many years the Border Patrol checks on I-91 were conducted periodically, usually a few times a year. But since last December, agents from the Border Patrol’s Swanton sector have been stopping motorists traveling that stretch of highway seven days a week. Now officials with the sector say they’ll ask the agency to make the check point permanent.

Leslie Lawson says the checkpoint is a valuable tool in addition to her office’s regular duty patrolling for illegal immigrants in the area between border crossings along the U.S.-Canadian boundary.

(Lawson) “It gives us another opportunity to apprehend those folks. Plus checkpoints assist us in our intelligence gathering so that we see what’s going on throughout an entire area.”

(Zind) Lawson says in the past year more than 600 people have been taken into custody at the I-91 location. She says if the U.S. Border Patrol approves her office’s request the checkpoint will be redesigned and a permanent building will replace the mobile structure that’s now being used.

Lawson says the Border Patrol is currently replacing temporary signs at the checkpoint with permanent ones to accommodate snow plows. She says the agency has also taken steps to improve safety after two serious accidents at a New York checkpoint. One accident resulted in four deaths.

Lawson says she’s had some complaints about the I-91 checks.

(Lawson) “Typically it’s those folks that go through all the time, saying, ‘Why don’t you know me yet?'”

(Zind) Lawson says some people have also complained that the stops are unconstitutional. The Vermont Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says it’s received many calls from people concerned that the Border Patrol checks violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition against illegal search and seizure.

The organization says the checkpoint is legal – but unnecessary. The ACLU says those being arrested are people whose student or temporary visas have expired, not the sorts of individuals who represent a terrorist threat. Leslie Lawson says she can’t disclose whether or not anyone considered dangerous has been caught at the I-91 checkpoint.

(Lawson) “But I can tell you that the Border Patrol’s primary mission now is anti-terrorism. That’s why we’re out there. We’re enforcing the immigration laws to secure our nation.”

(Zind) Lawson says it will take time for the U.S. Border Patrol to respond to her request for a permanent checkpoint. In the meantime the temporary station will continue to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, weather permitting.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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