Kuster questioning immigration enforcement after border patrol stop

  • A U.S. Border Patrol agent checks a car on Interstate 93 last summer south of Lincoln. Geoff Forester / Monitor file

  • Rep. Ann Kuster talks to members of the media following a campaign stop with Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia in Concord on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

For the Monitor
Published: 7/6/2018 9:20:18 PM

Among the hundreds of cars stopped at a border patrol checkpoint on Interstate 93 on Father’s Day weekend, one was carrying Rep. Annie Kuster, who was on her way back from Littleton after celebrating the expansion of Schilling Brewery.

Once her vehicle was sniffed by dogs, she said she and her driver pulled up and “it was our turn.”

Kuster said the federal agent turned to her driver – who’s Caucasian – and said, “You are an American citizen, right?”

“Affirmative,” the driver answered.

Kuster said the agent then turned to her and said, “And you too ma’am?”

The congresswoman answered “yes.”

“I did ask him the purpose and he said ‘this is an immigration check point,’ and very quickly moved us along,” she said.

Kuster described the agent as polite but wondered how others may be treated.

“I don’t know the experience if I had been with someone in the car who wasn’t Caucasian or who had an accent or spoke a different language, but that was our experience,” she said.

Kuster told the Monitor she’s “interested in” legislation introduced recently by Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Patty Murray of Washington that would reduce border enforcement zones from 100 to 25 miles from the border or shoreline.

“I will definitely consider that,” she said.

Kuster noted that “the advantage would be fewer people would be inconvenienced by it.”

The three-term Democrat who represents New Hampshire’s Second Congressional Distric stressed she’s not seeking to abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. But in an interview with the Monitor, she criticized the agency’s “heavy handed” approach as they carry out President Donald Trump’s new and controversial immigration policy.

Federal officials planned six checkpoints over the summer, and have conducted two checkpoints over the past couple months – one on Memorial Day weekend and one on Father’s Day, when the congresswoman was stopped.

The checkpoints were held near the North Woodstock exit, about 92 miles from the Canadian border. Since CPB checkpoints are allowed within 100 miles of the nation’s borders and shorelines, they can be held virtually anywhere in New Hampshire.

Kuster said her staff’s inquiry with CBP regarding the frequency and duration of the immigration checkpoints.

“What I’m mostly interested in is are they effective. If the goal is to seek out illegal immigrants, is that an effective method because it does intrude. It’s an inconvenience, particularly to people living in the region who would have to go through it multiple times perhaps in the course of a weekend,” she said. “I can understand people being concerned about it.”

Kuster said her experience went smoothly.

“I would describe it as pretty efficient. I think we had to wait probably three to five minutes in line. And then going through it, it was very respectful and efficient,” Kuster said.

She also questioned some of its spinoff effects.

“I worry about the impact on tourism” and whether “some of our guests feel intimidated by that,” she said.

New Hampshire’s Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan are reviewing the Leahy-Murray legislation to limit border enforcement zones and have not taken an official position on the checkpoints.

Kuster spoke with the Monitor as a growing number of progressive Democrats call for abolishing ICE in the wake of the agency’s carrying out of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy toward people illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexican border.

Two weeks ago, Kuster was one of two dozen congressional Democrats to visit a detention center in Texas holding parents separated from their children

“I feel very strongly that we should have strong borders and we should have immigration enforcement but I am opposed to the president’s decision to change the apprehensions at the border and make the decision to detain every person, even the asylum seekers and the people with very young children,” she said.

Kuster said a change is needed.

“I’m not seeking abolishing ICE. I’m seeking rational immigration policy,” she said.

“To me, it’s more the president’s change of policy,” she said. “But the way that has been carried out by ICE, I think has been over-burdensome, heavy-handed government. I think we can take a more compassionate approach.”

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