11 months, 3 weeks ago
North country residents have mixed views — and strong opinions — about the value of traffic checkpoints routinely set up by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents assigned to monitor the American side of the U.S.-Canadian border.
Based on random interviews, several said they believe border checkpoints are necessary to keep illicit drugs, illegal immigrants and other unlawful activities out of the country.
However, many also said they’re concerned that too many law enforcement officials — including border patrol agents — unlawfully stretch their authority by using aggressive tactics when interrogating law-abiding citizens traveling in their own country.
Last week, Jessica A. Cooke, 21, Ogdensburg, was pulled over at a border checkpoint in Waddington by border patrol agents who wanted to search her car’s trunk. During an altercation that followed, Ms. Cooke allegedly was subdued with a stun gun.
The incident, which was captured on a cellphone video taken by Ms. Cooke, has prompted a spirited debate on social media sites. Ms. Cooke, a SUNY Canton criminal justice major who graduated Saturday, claims she was wrongfully assaulted and has threatened to file a lawsuit.
Several people said they believed both parties deserve some blame for the altercation: Ms. Cooke for provoking agents with an uncooperative attitude and the agents for using excessive force to restrain her.
Here’s a sampling of opinions of area residents and visitors:
■ William C. Hill, Edwards, said he has driven through checkpoints on several occasions and never had a problem. Usually, agents ask drivers where they’re from and where they’re going. Occasionally, they ask drivers to pull over for further questioning or to inspect their vehicle.
“I’m all for border patrol checks. Look at the drugs seized weekly by these that would otherwise go right onto the streets,” Mr. Hill said in an email. “If you have nothing to hide, why be a jerk? Just cooperate.”
■ Heather M. Wells, 29, Ogdensburg, said she and her husband pass through checkpoints occasionally on Route 37 when they’re heading to the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation to purchase cigarettes.
“I think we’re close to a border so we should have checkpoints,” Mrs. Wells said. “If you don’t give them a reason to stop you, they won’t.”
■ In Watertown, Antonio F. Gigliotti said he does not consider road checkpoints set up by the Border Patrol to be cause for concern.
“They don’t bother me,” he said.
Mr. Gigliotti said he has traveled through checkpoints before without an issue. He said since he does not have anything to hide, he never feels worried when he passes through one.
■ Tonya Fulmore, Watertown, agreed. She said road checkpoints are necessary to keep our border secure.
“I think if they are protecting the border, they have every right to be there,” she said.
■ William R. Wagstaff Jr., Massena, said he believes border patrol agents at times abuse their power by asking to inspect vehicles without having reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed.
“This woman had every right to refuse to open her trunk,” Mr. Wagstaff said in an email. “I have refused several times to let them search me and put their K-9 in my vehicle.”
Mr. Wagstaff said he filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C., and received a letter of apology. He also filed a complaint with border patrol officials in Swanton, Vt.
“Now I don’t get harassed anymore,” he said.
Example of reactions continue and you can read them all at Watertown Daily Times. It isn’t necessary for views to be mixed on anything about this report. Every stop by the U.S. Border Patrol of a U.S. citizen, unless it is a so-called “Terry Stop” with evidence of a crime, is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
If the Border Patrol wants to catch criminals, international terrorists or other trafficking perpetrators, they should do so at the border. The fact that the border isn’t secure is a sorry testimony to the degree the politicians want it to be open and porous. It is an obscene pointer to crony capitalism that the only thing the border patrol believes they can do is harass American citizens.
They have become powerless to stop the cross-border flood, and they are taking it out on American citizens. It is as much Kabuki theater as TSA checks at air ports. Nothing the U.S. government is doing is helping to keep American citizens safe. Every program I can think of is designed to foist more control on the American people rather than ensure their freedom and safety.
The saddest part isn’t that all of this is true. It is that people are still conflicted over these programs. If we wanted to secure the borders, we could shoot the invading hordes on sight, close down most of the checkpoints on the border, search every vehicle, disallow aliens from driving U.S. transport trucks, implement e-verify, and tell the LEOs to have the courage to go where the gangs are and shut them down rather than bust in doors doing SWAT raids. Things would change overnight.
None of that will happen because the politicians don’t want to secure the border.