Feds expand random traffic-stop search in anti-smuggling effort

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

KIMBALL TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Border Patrol agents began stopping drivers at unannounced, rotating checkpoints Tuesday in two areas of Michigan, looking for illegal immigrants, potential terrorists and drug or weapons smugglers.

The main purpose of the checkpoints is to stop immigrant smuggling, said Loretta Lopez-Mossman, acting chief patrol agent for the Border Patrol's Detroit sector.

However, agents also will look for other types of smuggling, and always are on the lookout for potential terrorists, Lopez-Mossman said.

"It's all about homeland security. Bottom line, we are here to be vigilant about the safety and security of the American people," INS spokesman Greg Palmore said on Tuesday.

Lopez-Mossman said everyone would be stopped wherever a checkpoint is set up and there will be no profiling aimed at Arabs or others.

Michigan is home to about 350,000 Arab-Americans, more on a percentage basis than any other state. The population is concentrated in southeastern Michigan.

Watching the border

New York, Vermont and New Hampshire are among the northern border areas that already have similar programs, said Mario Villarreal, a Border Patrol spokesman. Officials set up a similar program in northwest Washington state last weekend, he said. The practice is common in Southwest border states such as Texas and California.

The Michigan checkpoints will be set up for probably two hours at a time at various points in the areas of Port Huron and Trenton, both among the busiest for smuggling activity in the region, Lopez-Mossman said.

The checkpoints will be chosen according to several factors, including whether officials have intelligence about smuggling activity, Lopez-Mossman said.

They will be conducted indefinitely and may be extended next summer to the area of Sault Ste. Marie, the border crossing on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, she said.

A civil liberties group raised concerns about the new searches.

"We believe it's going to be very hard for them to do this without violating people's civil rights, or profiling people based on their ethnicity or accent," said Kary Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan.

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