My Turn: Immigration checkpoints in New Hampshire are troubling

  • 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

For the Monitor
Monday, July 09, 2018

Last weekend, at the #FamiliesBelongTogether rally, more than 700 protesters gathered in Concord to show their support for those children and families torn apart by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration enforcement policies. Policies which our state’s elected officials have vocally opposed. The Trump administration’s stance on issues related to immigration, asylum and refugee resettlement is clear – uninformed intolerance. At a time when we sorely need thoughtful, bipartisan action on immigration reform, we are left with reckless, symbolic gestures. We, as New Hampshire residents, cannot pretend these issues are irrelevant to our state.

As has been noted in this paper, New Hampshire has been host to two Customs and Border Patrol checkpoints this year, with another four planned. During these checkpoints, CBP officers have the authority to ask motorists about their immigration and citizenship status. Motorists have the right to say nothing, in which case CBP officers can temporarily detain them while ascertaining their citizenship status. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the CBP’s authority to conduct immigration checkpoints within 100 miles of a land or sea borer (an area that encompasses most of New Hampshire and, nationally, encompasses two-thirds of the U.S. population). There has been a recent uptick in these checkpoints at the northern border under the current administration. The CBP argues that these checkpoints are a “critical tool for the enforcement of our immigration laws.” However, data shows that less than 3 percent of foreigners entering the country illegally are caught at immigration checkpoints far from the border.

Though technically legal, these checkpoints are troubling for a number of reasons. First, CBP officers have been documented lying to motorists during the checkpoints, telling them they are required to answer the questions. In addition, there have been cases where motorists were detained for an unreasonable period of time without good cause. The threat of overreach is clear. Just last year, a CBP checkpoint resulted in 32 U.S. citizens being arrested on drug offenses. Arrests which were later ruled unconstitutional by a state circuit court judge, as the purview of these checkpoints is strictly related to immigration enforcement. All of this is on top of the obvious inconvenience to New Hampshire citizens, who should be able to go about their day and get from point A to point B without having to interact with federal agents. Ultimately, these checkpoints push against our 4th Amendment protections from unreasonable search and seizure, and seriously stretch the limits of what one could expect to happen in a truly “welcoming” state.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont recently introduced legislation that would limit the zone of CBP checkpoints to within 25 miles from the border. Unfortunately, we have not seen similar, substantial action taken from our elected officials here in New Hampshire (in fact, Gov. Chris Sununu has expressed support for the checkpoints). Please contact your elected officials and encourage them to take a stand against the CBP checkpoints happening in our state.

(David Kutz lives in Concord.)