U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently made numerous arrests and seized large amounts of marijuana during a five day checkpoint in Essex County. The agency occasionally sets up this temporary check point near Exit 28 of the Adirondack Northway (I-87). A June operation here resulted in similar arrests and seizure of marijuana, as well as what the agency described as the disruption “of two separate alien smuggling rings.”
The agency put out a statement saying, “Checkpoint operations are a proven enforcement tool to deny criminal organizations the ability to smuggle people, narcotics or other contraband further away from the border and these arrests exemplify that.”
The checkpoint has historically not been without controversy. In September of 2004 it received national attention after four people were killed when a tractor trailer slammed into a parked vehicle. There had been a similar accident in February of that year when 50 people were injured after a tour bus collided with a truck. In 2006, the Essex County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution in opposition to a proposed permanent checkpoint at the site, stating, “it will cause undue traffic congestion and delay and has the potential to be dangerous to motorists and most likely will be ineffective in preventing illegal aliens and others from entering New York State.”
There was also a 1994 lawsuit brought by a Border Patrol agent who was injured when he was struck by a vehicle while on duty at the checkpoint in 1989. In a case that hinged on a U.S. District Court’s interpretation of the 1946 Federal Tort Claims Act, a law which both enables and limits the rights of U.S. citizens to sue government agencies for negligence, the Border Patrol agent sued the driver of the car that struck him as well as the Border Patrol itself, claiming the agency had been negligent in the maintenance of the temporary checkpoint in North Hudson.
There are at least 60 of these checkpoints around the nation at any given time. Federal law mandates that such immigration checkpoints be within 100 miles of an international border, which includes oceans. Roughly two-thirds of the American population resides within this zone.
The legality of these stops has been a matter of ongoing legal debate; however the Supreme Court has consistently upheld the constitutionality of these checkpoints, most notably in the 1976 case, United States vs. Martinez-Fuerte. In a 7-2 decision siding with the government the court wrote that the Border Patrol could constitutionally operate checkpoints within the United States for the purpose of conducting brief, routine questioning in order to verify a person’s citizenship and immigration status. At question was whether these internal immigration checkpoints constituted a violation of the Fourth Amendment right to reasonable search and seizure.
The 1976 decision is widely accepted as legal precedent regarding the matter of Border Patrol immigration checkpoints within the United States and has subsequently been reaffirmed by the high court several times. However, a New Hampshire state judge recently made headlines when he ruled that drugs seized from vehicles at a similar 2017 checkpoint in Woodstock, New Hampshire, were inadmissible in court under that state’s constitution. In his decision New Hampshire Circuit Court Judge Thomas Rappa wrote, “The court finds that while the stated purpose of the checkpoint in this matter was screening for immigration violations, the primary purpose of the action was detection and seizure of drugs.”
The recent North Hudson checkpoint, as well as a coinciding operation in the Tupper Lake area, resulted in the arrest of 16 people from seven nations deemed to be in the country illegally. Border Patrol agents also seized 178 pounds of marijuana and were involved in a brief pursuit of a vehicle that ended with the arrest of a man transporting 44 pounds of marijuana. The checkpoint was operational from September 13th to the 17th.
Provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.