MONTPELIER, Vt. — The three members of the Vermont congressional delegation said Tuesday that they were concerned by a U.S. Border Patrol plan to set up immigration checkpoints in the interior of the state, far from the Canadian border.
In a statement, U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, independent Bernie Sanders and Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch said that they appreciated the work the Border Patrol does to stop dangerous criminal behavior on the border, but that they don’t think checkpoints would make Vermont or the United States safer. Rather, they say, the checkpoints would cause needless delays for travelers and hinder commerce between Vermont and Canada.
“Moreover, we are concerned these interior checkpoints may result in warrantless searches that violate the constitutionally protected Fourth Amendment right to privacy for everyone in our country and will instill fear in our immigrant communities — regardless of an individual’s immigration status,” the statement said. “We believe that inside our country the phrase ‘show me your papers’ does not belong in the United States of America.”
The regional Border Patrol headquarters in Swanton occasionally sets up such checkpoints in New Hampshire and New York.
“These checkpoint operations are designed to be minimally intrusive,” Michael McCarthy, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman, said in a statement Tuesday evening. “Agents ask simple questions and use their training, experience, and current intelligence to quickly make decisions on travelers’ citizenship or residency.”
He also pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed the authority for the Border Patrol to stop motorists at checkpoints away from the border.
A New Hampshire judge ruled in May that the checkpoints violated the state and federal constitutions. He suppressed evidence against more than a dozen people who were charged with drug possession after being stopped and searched by agents of Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, in 2017.
In an email after the news release was issued, Leahy spokesman David Carle said the Border Patrol hadn’t announced its plans for the Vermont checkpoints, but delegation staff members had been briefed.
Federal law allows the Border Patrol to set up checkpoints within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the international border. Leahy, Sanders and Welch have introduced legislation in the two chambers that would reduce that zone to 25 miles (40 kilometers).
Also in May, American Civil Liberties Union affiliates in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont sued the federal government to get a clearer picture of immigration enforcement actions since the Trump administration took office.
“Vermonters know that Border Patrol checkpoints offend everything it means to live a free society, where people going about their daily business shouldn’t have to answer to armed federal agents,” said James Lyall of the Vermont ACLU.