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ACLU: Border Patrol Checkpoints On I-93 Violated N.H. Constitution

Courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection

The ACLU of New Hampshire says the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints on Interstate 93 this summer staged far inland from the Canadian border violated the state’s Constitution.

During multi-day checkpoints in August, and then again in September, Border Patrol agents, in collaboration with police from the town of Woodstock and State Police, stopped vehicles in the southbound lanes of I-93 near the town of Woodstock, about 75 miles as the crow flies from the Canadian border.

Along with the detention of more than two-dozen undocumented immigrants including minors, Border Patrol and local law enforcement also made arrests for drug charges.

Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the ACLU-NH, says those stops, and the use of drug-sniffing dogs, violated the New Hampshire Constitution because there was no warrant or reasonable suspicion.

“Border Patrol simply used these dog sniff searches on everyone that went through the checkpoint, and that’s violative of New Hampshire constitution, which is more protective of privacy than even the Fourth Amendment to the Federal Constitution,” he said.

During the multi-day checkpoints, Bissonette believes that hundreds and possibly thousands of individuals were subjected to illegal searches by the dogs.

“So we just think this is incredibly problematic, and hardly consistent with New Hampshire’s ‘Live Free or Die’ approach to these issues.”

The ACLU-NH has filed a motion in Plymouth District Court on behalf of 18 legal residents who face drug charges following the checkpoint. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for January 11th.

Under federal law, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents are permitted to stage immigration checkpoints within 100 miles of an international or nautical border.

“Given this significant intrusion, these checkpoints can only be described as the imposition of a police state,”  said Buzz Scherr, a professor of law from UNH School of Law who is serving as co-counsel on the case in Plymouth District Court. “The checkpoints ignored the presumption of innocence and assumed that all those passing through were guilty of criminal activity.”  

The checkpoints on I-93 this summer were the first in more than five years, and represented a more aggressive approach to enforcing immigration laws under the Trump Administration. New figures released last week by the Department of Homeland Security show that the Swanton Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol, which covers sections of New York, Vermont and Northern New Hampshire, completed 449 apprehensions during the most recent fiscal year ending September 30, 2017. That’s up more than 54% from the previous year.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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