In 2012, the ACLU of Vermont made a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to federal agencies, asking for details about Border Patrol checkpoints on Vermont highways. Whan we reviewed the information we received, two things stood out. First, the U.S. government has prepared a detailed study of possible sites on which to build eight-acre, permanent Border Patrol checkpoints as many as 100 miles from the Canadian border along north-south Interstate highways in New England. Second, we found that most of the interdiction done at the temporary White River Junction (Hartford) Border Patrol checkpoint on I-91 is seizure of drugs, most of that marijuana, and most of that small amounts of marijuana. Securing the border against terrorists — the justification for a greater Homeland Security presence in the state — seems of minor importance, based on federal reports.
Plans for a Permanent Checkpoint
Documents turned over to the ACLU-VT by the government show that the Department of Homeland Security has conducted detailed site surveys of places on I-89 and I-91 to build an eight-acre facility straddling the highway, operating year round, with “[t]he operational intent … to divert all traffic from the interstate for screening,” according to DHS. That would represent a surveillance nightmare for Vermonters, who depend upon the interstates to get around.
According to DHS, the checkpoints must be located at a straight stretch of highway at least 1,180 feet long, with a maximum grade of 4%, and providing “eight to ten queuing lanes with space for possible expansion” in order “to divert and check every vehicle.” Although DHS describes the checkpoint as being “like a toll booth,” it would be a large installation with holding cells, an armory for weapons, and a garage for disassembling and searching cars, among other things. The DHS standards manual setting out the specifications for such a facility  shows a sample plan:
DHS surveyed the lengths of I-89 and I-91 up to 100 air miles from the border, producing detailed maps of each segment, like this one in Thetford:
In the end, DHS concluded that “[t]he areas around Bradford on 191 and around Randolph on 189 appear to have minimal local traffic and would be most suitable for a checkpoint location.”
However, DHS has not yet purchased land necessary to construct a checkpoint, and the plans to build appear to be on hold. Nonetheless, we are greatly concerned by the detailed studies done by the government, which can be pulled off the shelf and put into action at any time.
Studies have also been done for similar checkpoints along I-87, I-93, and I-95.
Read the documents:
- Secondary Checkpoint Feasibility Study [1 of 2] (June 16, 2006). [10.8 MB]
- Secondary Checkpoint Feasibility Study [2 of 2] (June 16, 2006). [9.8 MB]
- Dep’t of Homeland Security, Facilities Design Guide (2003) [9.3 MB].
Details About the Hartford Checkpoint
Many Vermonters have passed through the temporary checkpoint that DHS has operated sporadically on I-91 southbound at the Hartford rest area. At the ACLU, we get a lot of people asking us whether the checkpoint does any good at stopping terrorism. If the responses to our FOIA request are any guide, it seems that the checkpoint is good at intercepting small amounts of marijuana, and marijuana paraphernalia, which far and away topped the list of items seized. Now that Vermont has decriminalized marijuana possession, one wonders why the national government would continue to spend money on such a checkpoint.
Read the documents:
- DHS response to our Questions 3, 4, 7, and 8 (number of people arrested at checkpoints and for what offenses
- DHS response to our Question 5 (list of property seized at checkpoints)
1. Dep’t of Homeland Security, Secondary Checkpoint Feasibility Study 5-2 (June 16, 2006).
2. Dep’t of Homeland Security, Secondary Checkpoint Feasibility Study 5-7 (June 16, 2006).
3. Dep’t of Homeland Security, Facilities Design Guide B3.13 (2003).
4. Dep’t of Homeland Security, Secondary Checkpoint Feasibility Study 5-1 (June 16, 2006).
WANT TO LEARN MORE? Read our full report, SURVEILLANCE ON THE NORTHERN BORDER.