Sanders, Leahy and Welch Object to Border Patrol's Checkpoint Plans | Off Message

Bernie Sanders
Sanders, Leahy and Welch Object to Border Patrol's Checkpoint Plans


A sign near the border - FILE: MARK DAVIS
  • File: Mark Davis
  • A sign near the border
Vermont's congressional delegation is objecting to U.S. Customs and Border Protection's plans to resume controversial checkpoints far from the Canadian border.

The Border Patrol has not publicly announced its intention. But the delegation's staffers were recently briefed about the plan by Border Patrol officials, according to David Carle, spokesman for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

The Border Patrol has the authority to stop and search travelers without a warrant or reasonable suspicion within 100 miles of an international boundary or coastal body of water, a zone that includes about 90 percent of Vermont.

"We are concerned to learn of the U.S. Border Patrol’s plans to operate a number of immigration checkpoints in the interior of Vermont," the delegation said in a joint statement. "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. Rather, they appear to be another escalation of the Trump Administration’s aggressive yet wasteful use of immigration enforcement resources."

Carle said it was unclear when exactly Border Patrol agents would resume the checkpoints or where they would be located.

Officials at the Border Patrol's Swanton Sector did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Beginning in 2003, the Border Patrol periodically set up a checkpoint on Interstate 91 in Hartford, 97 miles from the Canadian border. After criticism from Leahy, the American Civil Liberties Union and others, the Border Patrol abandoned plans to set up a permanent checkpoint there in 2014.

The Border Patrol has not recently conducted internal checkpoints in Vermont. But in the past year, agents have boarded an Amtrak train in White River Junction and asked passengers on a Greyhound bus outside Burlington International Airport about their citizenship.

Border Patrol has operated internal checkpoints in New Hampshire and Maine in the past year. In New Hampshire, prosecutors eventually dismissed 16 minor drug possession cases that resulted from such stops in 2017, after a judge ruled that the searches violated the state constitution's privacy protections.

Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said they were concerned that warrantless searches at the interior checkpoints would violate Fourth Amendment privacy protections and cause fear in immigrant communities.

"We believe that ... the phrase ‘show me your papers’ does not belong in the United States of America," they said.

All three cosponsored a 2018 Border Zone Reasonableness Restoration Act, which would reduce the 100-mile zone to 25 miles and place other restrictions on Border Patrol activities away from the international line.

James Lyall, executive director of the ACLU of Vermont, urged the delegation to take additional action against the Border Patrol.

"Vermonters know that Border Patrol checkpoints offend everything it means to live a free society, where people going about their daily business shouldn't have to answer to armed federal agents," Lyall said. "If Vermont's congressional delegation is serious about protecting Vermonters' civil liberties ... they could start by refusing to increase funding for this notoriously lawless and abusive agency."