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Feds defend Father's Day immigration roadblock on I-93; ACLU says people are free not to cooperate

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 20. 2018 12:10PM
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoint on I-93 Father's Day weekend led to the arrest of five illegal immigrants, officials said. (John Koziol/Correspondent)

WOODSTOCK — A U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoint on Interstate 93 over Father’s Day weekend resulted in the arrest of five illegal immigrants and seizure of small quantities of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, a spokesman said Tuesday.

The New Hampshire chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union condemned the latest checkpoint, calling it an “embarrassment” and claiming the operation violated the Fourth Amendment.

“These latest checkpoints coincided with Laconia Bike Week and came just a couple weeks after the recent Memorial Day checkpoint,” said Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the ACLU-New Hampshire. “It is our understanding that CBP intends to conduct more checkpoints in New Hampshire — possibly four — over the remainder of this year. For a state that prides itself on being welcoming to all, these checkpoints tell a very different story, one of discrimination and dismissal of our constitutional rights and values.”

The government roadblock was set up June 15-17 on the southbound lanes of Interstate 93 near Woodstock on the same straightaway used over Memorial Day weekend, as well as a three-day period last summer and fall. The area lies in the CBP area of responsibility called the Swanton Sector and is 90 miles from the Canadian border. Such roadblocks are illegal beyond 100 miles of a border.

According to CBP spokesman Steve Sapp, the five foreigners arrested “did not have legal immigration status.” Those arrested were from Brazil, China, Ecuador, El Salvador and Mexico, and all were turned over to ICE Enforcement Removal Operations.

Agents once again found small quantities of marijuana, marijuana edibles and THC concentrates used in vaporizers, Sapp said.

Stephanie Malin, also a CBP spokesman, said trained police dogs were once again used at the checkpoint.

Earlier this year, Plymouth District Court Judge Thomas Rappa ruled evidence in 16 petty drug arrests stemming from a 2017 checkpoint was inadmissible and all the cases were dismissed.

In the 14-page May 1 ruling, Judge Rappa said the searches violated New Hampshire’s Constitution in that the state “failed to present any evidence” that the police dog at the checkpoint last August was “properly trained and certified.”

The police dogs are “a key asset” at the government checkpoints, according to Malin.

“CBP canines are dual-trained on the scents of both concealed humans and narcotics,” she said.

If you refuse to answer a government agent’s questions, “the agent may detain the driver for a reasonable amount of time until he or she can make a determination regarding the occupant’s immigration status,” Malin said.

“An agent may question a vehicle’s occupants about their citizenship, place of birth, and request document proof of immigration status, how legal status was obtained and make quick observations of what is in plain view in the interior of the vehicle,” she explained. “CBP is committed to the fair, impartial and respectful treatment of all members of the trade and traveling public, and policy prohibits the consideration of race or ethnicity in law enforcement, investigation, and screening activities, in all but the most exceptional circumstances.”

ACLU-New Hampshire’s Bissonnette is skeptical.

“Based on videos of the checkpoint recorded by motorists, the way CBP is conducting these checkpoints is deeply disturbing, coercive, and unconstitutional,” he said in a statement. “The CBP told motorists that they were ‘required’ to answer their questions. This is inaccurate. All individuals going through these checkpoints have the right to say absolutely nothing. The refusal to answer questions does not create reasonable suspicion or probable cause to prolong a stop at these checkpoints. If a person refuses to comply and CBP cannot promptly determine the person’s immigration status, CBP must immediately release that person.”

CBP Swanton Sector Acting Chief Patrol Agent Robert Garcia considers roadblocks spanning I-93 in New Hampshire a critical enforcement tool.

“In addition to technology, manpower and intelligence, checkpoints help to deny access to major routes of egress away from the border and into our communities in the interior of the U.S.,” he said.

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