Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Excerpt from The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 9, 2011 edition:
Six miles north of the University of Maine's flagship campus, on the only real highway in these parts, students and professors traveling south might encounter a surprise: a roadblock manned by armed Border Patrol agents, backed by drug-sniffing dogs, state policemen, and county sheriff's deputies.

Although the Canadian border is nearly 100 miles behind them—and Bangor, Maine's second-largest city, just 15 miles ahead—motorists are queried about their citizenship and immigration status. Those who raise an agent's suspicions are sent to an adjacent weigh station for further questioning and, sometimes, searches. Any foreign students or scholars unable to produce all of their original documentation are detained and could be arrested.

Thus far, nobody from the University of Maine has actually been arrested at this ephemeral checkpoint, which usually appears near the start of the academic year, when migrant laborers happen to be leaving eastern Maine's blueberry fields. One student had to wait at the roadblock until university authorities had satisfied agents that the individual was in the country legally, university officials say.

But elsewhere on the northern border, foreign students and scholars experience fear and uncertainty every time they leave campus, pick up a friend at the bus station, or board a domestic train or flight, even when they have all their documents with them.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has greatly increased its manpower along the northern border, allowing for more-frequent use of roving patrols or surprise checkpoints on buses, trains, and highways far from the border itself. Students who failed to carry their original documents have been delayed and fined, apprehended even when they're just a few miles from campus.

"We used to tell students: When you get here, put your passport and I-90 form away so you don't lose it, because you don't need anything special when you travel around the country," says Thy Yang, director of international programs at Michigan Technological University, located a few miles from the shores of Lake Superior. "Now we tell them to carry it at all times.
. . .

'Temporary Permanent'

Customs and Border Protection officials did not make themselves available for an interview, despite repeated requests. A written statement ignored questions on the topic, instead providing general commentary on the purpose of internal checkpoints. "CBP Border Patrol agents conduct these types of operations periodically in key locations that serve as conduits for human and narcotics smuggling," the statement said. "These operations serve as a vital component to our overall border security efforts and help sustain security efforts implemented in recent years."

Customs and Border Protection also maintains that it can set up roadblocks—it prefers the term "temporary permanent checkpoints" for legal reasons—and question people on trains and buses or at transportation stations anywhere within 100 air miles of a U.S. border or seacoast. This broadly defined border zone encompasses most of the nation's major cities and the entirety of several states, including Florida, Michigan, Hawaii, Delaware, New Jersey, and five of the six New England states. The American Civil Liberties Union—concerned about the erosion of Fourth Amendment protections against arbitrary searches and seizures—has called it the "Constitution-Free Zone."


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