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Border Patrol sets up Memorial Day weekend checkpoint in Woodstock, N.H.

  • A U.S. Border Patrol agent checks a car on the Interstate 93 southbound lane on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2017 south of the Route 175 exit south of Lincoln. Geoff Forester / Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 5/29/2018 2:00:20 PM

U.S. Customs and Border Protection carried out a roadside checkpoint in Woodstock over the weekend to determine the immigration status of motorists and their passengers. The checkpoint, set up on the southbound side of Interstate 93, resulted in 17 arrests on suspected immigration violations, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Immigrants from Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico, Montenegro, Ukraine and Uzbekistan were arrested – 10 countries in total, according to a news release from the agency Tuesday afternoon. The checkpoint was carried out from Sunday to Tuesday, wrapping up at noon Tuesday.

Agents may question a vehicle’s occupants about their citizenship and place of birth and request proof of immigration status, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Agents are allowed to set up such checkpoints within 100 miles of the border. The Woodstock location is about 90 miles from the Canadian border.

This is the first checkpoint in New Hampshire this year. Last summer, Border Patrol teamed up with local police for similar operations. Woodstock police handled arrests on drug-related and other offenses, while customs agents handled any immigration-related offenses.

Earlier this month, a New Hampshire judge suppressed evidence against more than a dozen people who were charged with drug possession after being stopped and searched by border agents last summer.

Federal agents used drug-sniffing dogs to “alert” them of suspicious vehicles, which would be diverted off the road and searched. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire argued that the evidence from the federal checkpoint can’t be used in state prosecutions because the warrantless searches violated the state Constitution.

Plymouth circuit court Judge Thomas Rappa Jr. agreed.

“This Court finds that while the stated purpose of the checkpoints in this matter was screening for immigration violations, the primary purpose of the action was the detection and seizure of drugs,” Rappa wrote.

This time, Woodstock police were not involved with the checkpoint, according to Sgt. Kevin Millar. But the dogs were still put into patrol and “drugs and drug paraphernalia” were still found and seized, according to a news release Tuesday afternoon. That included “a small amount of marijuana, hash oil and THC vape oil,” police said.

A spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, Stephanie Malin, confirmed that local police had not been contacted about the drug possessions; the drugs were simply seized and no charges were pressed, she said.

And she said the use of the drug-sniffing dogs did not violate the Superior Court order.

“The state decision did not alter our federal authority, which includes the use of canines at an immigration checkpoint,” Malin said in a statement. “Canines were utilized as they are a key asset at checkpoints to identify instances of human smuggling. CBP canines are dual trained on the scents of both concealed humans and narcotics.”

Swanton Sector Acting Chief Patrol Agent Robert Garcia, whose Vermont group oversees operations in New Hampshire, defended the use of the checkpoint more broadly.

“Checkpoint operations are a critical enforcement tool for the enforcement of our immigration laws and are a part of our defense in depth strategy,” he said in a statement.

(Alyssa Dandrea conributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.)

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