Immigration checkpoint on I-93 nets no arrests but draws concern

  • A U.S. Border Patrol agent checks a car on the I-93 southbound lane on Wednesday, September 28, 2017 south of the Route 175 exit south of Lincoln. Geoff Forester

Monitor staff
Published: 6/11/2019 2:16:11 PM

An eight-hour immigration checkpoint Sunday on Interstate 93 near Woodstock did not net any arrests but led to a traffic slowdown right at the start of the state’s famed Bike Week.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued tickets to 29 people for failing to carry their immigration documents, a spokesman said Monday night. The federal border patrol checkpoint also resulted in “six separate seizures of marijuana and paraphernalia.”

The checkpoints were once an annual occurrence in New Hampshire but have taken place more frequently in the past couple of years, particularly on I-93 south about 90 miles from the Canadian border. Drivers who passed through the area Sunday were stopped briefly and asked to confirm their citizenship, with drug-sniffing dogs nearby.

A video of one group’s experience going through the checkpoint is getting attention on social media with more than 2,000 views.

“What else to do on a beautiful Sunday in New Hampshire than getting stopped by border patrol when you’re minding your own business,” the man behind the camera asks at the start of the hour-long Facebook Live video.

After the driver and others in the car declined to answer questions from border patrol, agents told them to pull over, while noting that a lack of cooperation would delay the process.

“Are you unwilling to answer questions too, sir?” an agent asks the front-seat passenger.

"Sí,” the man replied.

The group was detained off the highway for roughly 50 minutes before they were allowed to continue on I-93.

The stops have continued to prove controversial with groups like New Hampshire’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, who opposes them as unwarranted intrusions. This past Sunday’s checkpoint was of particular concern as it coincided with the 96th annual Laconia Motorcycle Weekend, a time of increased traffic in the Granite State.

“We are deeply disappointed to see these checkpoints back in New Hampshire, which are a significant intrusion into an individual’s time, especially those with little utility,” said Gilles Bissonette, legal director at the ACLU of New Hampshire. “At an especially busy time with Bike Week, this checkpoint will cause unnecessary delays and a tax on time. We are continuing to investigate how this checkpoint was conducted.” 

Bissonette posted on social media about the checkpoint Sunday, saying that everyone stuck in traffic on bike weekend could thank U.S. Customs and Border Protection “for interrupting your weekend by seizing you without probable cause or reasonable suspicion.” He encouraged them to know their rights, which includes the right to remain silent and not answer questions.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection and its supporters have long argued the stops cut off undocumented travelers heading from Canada to Boston, and intercept drugs in the process.

“Enforcement actions away from the border are within the jurisdiction of U.S. Border Patrol and performed as a means of preventing smuggling organizations from exploiting unmonitored roads and highways to travel to the interior of the United States. These operations are a vital tool for the U.S. Border Patrol’s national security efforts,” the agency said in a statement Monday.

Inland border checkpoints as they are called — those positioned up to 100 miles of the physical border — have been in use since at least 1953, when a U.S. Department of Justice rule was passed authorizing the practice. 

The number of arrests at the checkpoints in New Hampshire has varied widely in recent years from upwards of two dozen to zero.

A three-day checkpoint on I-93 in August 2017 drew the most attention from civil libertarians after 18 U.S. citizens were arrested on drug charges. The ACLU challenged in court the use of drug-sniffing dogs on captive cars without obtaining permission. The evidence used to substantiate the 18 arrests was ultimately thrown out and the charges dropped in 2018.

Woodstock police said by phone Tuesday they had no involvement in this past Sunday’s checkpoint and didn’t know about the stop ahead of time.

Staff writer Ethan DeWitt contributed to this report.

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