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Don't Close Checkpoints, Update Them

September 10, 2000|BEN J. SEELEY | Ben J. Seeley is executive director of the Border Solution Task Force, a watchdog group in San Diego. E-mail: seeley@adnc.com

Here it goes again, a renewed effort to close or relocate the two most vital and strategic Border Patrol checkpoints in the United States.

Never mind that these two checkpoints on Interstate 5 at San Clemente and on I-15 at Temecula have been in operation for more than 70 years as part of a network of permanent and tactical temporary checkpoints across the nation. When these two checkpoints are not in operation, the other checkpoints, especially in California, are hampered or rendered useless.

Among the reasons given for closing the checkpoints: Apprehensions are down, and the 250 agents assigned to the checkpoints would be more useful right on the border between Mexico and the United States. Does that mean we should close down the surveillance scanners at airports because discovery and interdiction of explosives and firearms are down? And 250 agents reassigned along a 2,000-mile border over three shifts a day wouldn't make a dent in border crimes as compared to the deterrent effect they pose at the checkpoints.

Both organized smugglers and informal operations despise these checkpoints, which force them to take evasive alternative routes that increase the chances for their being located and caught. A review of drug smuggling and illegal alien transportation arrests by the Border Patrol and local law enforcement south and west of the checkpoints will bear this out.

In August, Assemblymen Bruce Thompson (R-Fallbrook) and Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) demanded that the Immigration and Naturalization Service relocate the checkpoints closer to the border or close them down, arguing that the checkpoints are more than 60 miles from the border, that they cause periodic traffic delays and that the agents at the checkpoints engage in racial profiling.

But there is absolutely no area anywhere near the border to relocate the checkpoints. An occasional traffic delay to prevent smuggling people or drugs into the U.S. should not be considered too much of a personal sacrifice for law-abiding citizens to endure.

As for racial profiling, what the agents do is nationality profiling, and rightfully so. If Sweden, China or Congo shared our border and the same economic conditions and criminal activities existed, wouldn't law enforcement officers be profiling those nationalities?

If the conscious or unconscious goal is to allow more drugs, undocumented immigrants or foreign terrorists into the country, just remove or relocate the I-5 and I-15 checkpoints and put up signs, "Smugglers Welcome to California."

If Thompson and Cedillo want to do something constructive, they might consider getting the California Assembly to pressure the federal government to get illegal immigration and smuggling under control.

The checkpoints should be modernized, as federal officials have promised, so that they can be kept open 24 hours a day with minimal traffic delays. The checkpoints are part of a comprehensive border security program. They need to be operated at their full potential, not relocated or shut down.

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