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Activists deliver Sununu 3,600-signature petition opposing border patrol checkpoints

  • Brian Rogers, of Porstmouth, an organizer with the activist group NextGen, signs a petition calling for Gov. Chris Sununu to disavow the use of border patrol checkpoints along I-93 in New Hampshire, Aug. 9, 2018. Ethan DeWitt—Ethan DeWitt



Monitor staff
Thursday, August 09, 2018

A string of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol checkpoints along New Hampshire highways became a new flashpoint in the gubernatorial election Thursday, as activists delivered a petition with more than 3,600 signatures calling on Gov. Chris Sununu to oppose the practice.

Gathering outside the governor’s office, several dozen protesters held signs opposing the checkpoints and urged Sununu to tell the federal agencies to stop carrying them out. Sununu himself wasn’t around to be confronted by the young organizers.

Recent months have seen a return of the checkpoints, typically held in Woodstock for southbound traffic along Interstate 93. For decades the practice was carried out on an annual basis, and was stopped entirely in 2012 under the Obama administration. But since August 2017, Border Patrol has reintroduced the checkpoints in the Granite State at a rapid clip.

The agency carried out two last year and three this year, with at least five planned for the summer, according to emails obtained by the New Hampshire chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. During the stops, drivers are asked to confirm their citizenship and those that refuse are pulled aside and often detained and sent over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which determines whether they may be deported. Border patrol agents have also used drug-sniffing dogs outside the cars, which the agency says is to detect human trafficking. The use of the dogs also netted dozens of arrests of New Hampshire residents on drug charges, which led to a lawsuit by the ACLU.

Speaking Thursday, opponents of the checkpoints said they have hurt tourism and sown fear into immigrants both inside and outside the state.

“It is not okay that we have armed federal agents who are harassing drivers and subjecting them to such intrusive stops,” said Asma Elhuni, organizer with the United Valley Interfaith Project, which advocates on behalf of immigrants in New Hampshire. “That resembles police states that we criticize in other countries that violate civil and human rights.”

The net result, Elhuni added, is an “unwelcoming state.”

Teddy Smyth, the youth organizer for the progressive group NextGen, argued the rise of the stops was tied to Sununu and Trump’s elections in 2016. And he said Sununu could make a dent on the issue if he wanted.

“He can make that call right now; he can say ‘Donald Trump, what’s up, can you change this policy, can you stop these checkpoints immediately’,” Smyth said. “Has he yet? No. Will he? Probably not. What do we have to do? Vote him out.”

The stops are overseen by federal border patrol agents operating out of the Swanton Sector in northern Vermont, and their implementation within 100 miles of the U.S. border has been upheld by the Supreme Court. But Sununu, whose agencies are generally not involved, has been supportive of their use.

At a campaign stop in June, the governor said he wouldn’t voice opposition to the stops because he can’t pressure federal agencies “to do anything,” Fosters Daily Democrat reported. But he praised the use of the stops for drug arrests.

“Every time they’ve done those border patrols, they’ve taken out people who have trafficked drugs,” he said at the time. “That’s the federal government’s role. They’re doing their job.”

A spokesperson for Sununu was not immediately available to comment on the petition.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)