WOODSTOCK, N.H. - The American Civil Liberties Union is launching an investigation after 17 people were arrested during a holiday weekend Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 93 in Woodstock, New Hampshire.
The operation started Sunday and ended at noon on Tuesday. Woodstock is 90 miles from the Canadian border.
“It’s important to note these checkpoints aren’t even happening at the border,“ Gilles Bissonette, legal director of the ACLU of New Hampshire, told Boston 25 News. “This is not good for business, tourism and civil liberties. Border Patrol agents detained hundreds, if not thousands, of people without any reasonable suspicion that a crime occurred. That defies what it means to live in a free society where you don’t have to entertain forced interrogation with federal police. That’s exactly what immigration officials have done.”
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the 17 people arrested did not have legal immigration status. Six had overstayed their visas.
Those arrested were from Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico, Montenegro, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. None have any nexus to the Canadian border.
Bissonette said evidence doesn’t support the justification that these checkpoints are needed to catch people who cross the border.
"These checkpoints are set-up under the notion that individuals are crossing an international border and are moving into the interior of the United States from that border," Bissonette said. "None of that occurred with respect to these individuals. None of them crossed the Canadian border. These are individuals who have been living in the United States."
On Monday, Boston 25 News spoke with a woman who lives in New Hampshire and was stopped at the checkpoint. She said she felt like the checkpoint was "racial profiling."
"These types of checkpoints always create the possibility for law enforcement to take improper shortcuts based on race," Bissonette said.
There are strict parameters under which these checkpoints can be conducted under the Fourth Amendment.
"We're going to examine and ensure white folks are now allowed to sail on by, while people of color are subject to a more intense interrogation," Bissonette said.
During similar checkpoints last year, dozens of people were charged with possessing small amounts of drugs.
The ACLU represented 16 of them in a lawsuit fighting the charges. In May, The New Hampshire Circuit Court ruled the Border Patrol checkpoint that took place in August 2017 violated their Fourth Amendment rights.
Dog sniff searches are permissible under the Fourth Amendment but are not permissible under the New Hampshire Constitution. Most caught with drugs have such a small amount, U.S. Customs and Border Protection won’t press federal drug charges. However, charges can’t be filed at a state or local level because dog sniff searches are not permissible under the New Hampshire Constitution.
In the most recent checkpoint, agents seized a small amount of marijuana, hash oil and THC vape oil. Boston 25 News has confirmed the drugs were in the possession of U.S. citizens.
The ACLU is looking into whether the most recent checkpoint was conducted appropriately.
According to internal New Hampshire State Police emails the ACLU of NH obtained through a public records request, U.S. Customs and Border Protection plans to conduct 5 more checkpoints in New Hampshire this year.
"We think that's outrageous they would use their authority in that type of way to conduct even more checkpoints in [New Hampshire] and violate even more people's civil liberties," Bissonette said.
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