United States Border Patrol interior checkpoints

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The United States Border Patrol operates 71 traffic checkpoints, including 33 permanent traffic checkpoints, near the Mexico–United States border.[1][2] The stated primary purpose of these inspection stations is to deter illegal immigration and smuggling activities. After the September 11 attacks in 2001, they took on the additional role of terrorism deterrence.[citation needed] These checkpoints are located between 25 and 75 miles (40 and 121 km) of the Mexico–United States border along major U.S. highways; near the southern border of the contiguous United States. Their situation at interior locations allow them to deter illegal activities that may have bypassed official border crossings along the frontier. The checkpoints are divided among nine Border Patrol sectors. There are a number of these checkpoints near the northern border of the contiguous U.S. as well (such as in the states of New York or Maine), within 100 miles (160 km) of the Canada–U.S. border.[3]

Role of checkpoints

The checkpoints are described as "the third layer in the Border Patrol's three-layer strategy", following "line watch" and "roving patrol" operations near the border. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office,[2]

Border Patrol agents at checkpoints have legal authority that agents do not have when patrolling areas away from the border. The United States Supreme Court ruled that Border Patrol agents may stop a vehicle at fixed checkpoints for brief questioning of its occupants even if there is no reason to believe that the particular vehicle contains people unlawfully present in the country.[4] The Court further held that Border Patrol agents "have wide discretion" to refer motorists selectively to a secondary inspection area for additional brief questioning.[5] In contrast, the Supreme Court held that Border Patrol agents on roving patrol may stop a vehicle only if they have reasonable suspicion that the vehicle contains people who may be illegally in the United States—a higher threshold for stopping and questioning motorists than at checkpoints.[6] The constitutional threshold for searching a vehicle is the same, however, and must be supported by either consent or probable cause, whether in the context of a roving patrol or a checkpoint search.[7]

Under US law, people who enter the US without inspection (EWI) can be subjected to expedited removal if they are found within 100 miles of the border.[8] This power has been subject to heavy criticism by the American Civil Liberties Union.[9]

Documentation at checkpoints

No documentation is required at Border Patrol checkpoints for US citizens; however, lawful permanent residents (LPRs) are required to carry their registration cards (green cards) "at all times" according to federal law.[10] People in a non-immigrant status (for example, tourists) should carry proper documentation. In 2013 there was criticism of the Border Patrol for arresting people in a non-immigrant status at checkpoints (especially in New York), even though the aliens are lawfully present.[11]

List of permanent checkpoints

Border Patrol sectors and checkpoint locations for fiscal years 2016–2020
Permanent and tactical checkpoints in the San Diego sector
Permanent and tactical checkpoints in the Tucson sector
Permanent and tactical checkpoints in the Laredo sector
Permanent and tactical checkpoints in the Rio Grande Valley sector



New Mexico


Tactical checkpoints

In fiscal year 2008 thirty-nine tactical checkpoints were in operation. Tactical checkpoints lack permanent buildings, and "support permanent checkpoints by monitoring and inspecting traffic on secondary roads that the Border Patrol determined are likely to be used by individuals in the country illegally or smugglers to evade apprehension at permanent checkpoints". A tactical checkpoint might consist of vehicles, traffic cones, signs, a portable water supply, a cage for canines (if deployed), and portable rest facilities.[2]

Due to Congressional restrictions against the funding of permanent checkpoints in the Tucson sector, all of its checkpoints are tactical checkpoints. These were required to relocate every seven days, amended to every 14 days in 2005. Due to the need for road shoulder space and restrictions on placing checkpoints near curves, the number of sites is limited, and the relocation in practice means that checkpoints are periodically shut down. In 2005, the median tactical checkpoint nationally was active for 2 hours daily, as opposed to over 23 hours daily for permanent checkpoints; however, the Tucson sector's checkpoint on Highway 19 was active 22 hours daily.[1] A draft plan for the I-19 checkpoint in 2009 proposed to model it on the largest previous permanent checkpoint, the I-35 checkpoint north of Laredo, Texas, but would surpass it in size (18 acres) and inspection lanes (8 primary, 7 secondary). A number of community concerns were addressed, such as placement of canopies for dark sky restrictions for a local observatory, off-highway location, rumble strips, signage, and mitigation of traffic congestion. A community recommendation to "seek to mitigate noise" was to be "researched and considered".[2]

Effectiveness and criticisms


For the year 2008 a GAO report entitled "Border Patrol" assigned mixed success to border checkpoints. Positive results include the apprehension of nearly 17,000 people in the country illegally at interior checkpoints. The report also said, "More than 705,000 total Border Patrol apprehensions [occurred] along the southwest border ... ." The Border Patrol also "encountered 530 aliens from special interest countries, which are countries the Department of State has determined to represent a potential terrorist threat to the United States." Additionally, there were over 3,500 drug seizures at southwest border checkpoints in 2008.[2]

Changes in 2008

Staffing levels were substantially increased in 2008. The Laredo sector, for instance, increased its number of agents from 1200 in 2007 to approximately 1636 in 2008. Upgraded infrastructure and technology increased deterrence and detection capability in the Laredo sector. Additions include cameras, license plate readers, and vehicle and cargo inspection systems (VACIS). Laredo also implemented a prosecution initiative in 2008. Named Operation Streamline, the goal was "to prosecute and remove all violators charged with illegal entry in target areas in the sector".[2]


A shortcoming cited by the same GAO report were the inaccuracies represented by the report's title. The report states, "Our analysis showed that the actual checkpoint performance results were incorrectly reported for two of the three measures in fiscal year 2007 and for one measure in fiscal year 2008. As a result, the Border Patrol incorrectly reported that it met its checkpoint performance targets for these two measures."[2]

Some residents of Arivaca, Arizona, have stated they are regularly subjected to harassment, delays, searches, and racial profiling at the internal checkpoint near their community. They questioned the effectiveness of the checkpoint, and began monitoring it in 2014 to determine its effectiveness.[13][14]


Internal checkpoints have also been criticized for violating the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution which prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizures", although United States v. Martinez-Fuerte has affirmed their constitutionality. The U.S. Border Patrol has stated: "Although motorists are not legally required to answer the questions 'Are you a U.S. citizen, and where are you headed?' they will not be allowed to proceed until the inspecting agent is satisfied that the occupants of vehicles traveling through the checkpoint are legally present in the U.S."[15]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Border Patrol: Available Data on Interior Checkpoints Suggest Differences in Sector Performance" (PDF). United States General Accounting Office. July 2005.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Border Patrol: Checkpoints Contribute to Border Patrol's Mission, but More Consistent Data Collection and Performance Measurement Could Improve Effectiveness" (PDF). United States General Accounting Office. August 2009.
  3. ^ Woodard, Colin (January 9, 2011), "Far From Border, U.S. Detains Foreign Students", The Chronicle of Higher Education
  4. ^ GAO cites: United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 545 (1976)
  5. ^ GAO cites: United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 563-564 (1976)
  6. ^ GAO cites: United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 881–882 (1975).
  7. ^ GAO cites: United States v. Ortiz, 422 U.S. 891, 896–97 (1975).
  8. ^ 8 USC 1357(a)(3)
  9. ^ "Are You Living in the Government's "Border" Zone?".
  10. ^ 8 USC 1304(e)
  11. ^ "Families for Freedom new report uncovers nearly 300 wrongful arrests by Border Patrol and almost $1 million in cash and other incentives" (PDF). January 30, 2013.
  12. ^ "Panoramio photo, US 70 East checkpoint". Panoramio.
  13. ^ "Residents in Arizona Town Push to Remove 'Militaristic' Border Checkpoint". FoxNews. February 27, 2014.
  14. ^ Carcamo, Cindy (February 24, 2014). "Arizona Residents Begin Monitoring Immigration Checkpoint". Los Angeles Times.
  15. ^ Casares, Cindy (March 7, 2013). "Border Patrol Takes 'No' for an Answer at Internal Checkpoints". Texas Observer.

Further reading

External links

  • An external (unofficial) Google Map of reported checkpoints is available here.