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U.S. Senate narrows area for Border Patrol checkpoints

Eric Gay
Associated Press

The U.S. Senate wants to put a stop to Border Patrol checkpoints and warrantless searches taking place far from the border with Canada. The policy change was included in an amendment to the larger immigration overhaul being debated this week. It pleases civil liberties and immigrant advocates, but concerns frontline Border Patrol agents.

Under current law, Border Patrol agents can set up vehicle checkpoints within 100 miles of the frontier. U.S. Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., co-sponsored tighter limits that have now been incorporated into the Senate's immigration overhaul. It would limit vehicle checkpoints to within 25 miles of the northern border as the crow flies.

Rich Stolz, director of the immigrant rights group One America, says many people don't realize the present reach of the Border Patrol goes far into the country's interior.

Rich Stolz: "The genesis of this amendment has been significant concerns with regard to racial profiling, use of force and inappropriate behavior by Border Patrol agents,” Stolz said. 

The president of the Northwest’s local Border Patrol union is concerned some useful checkpoint locations could be eliminated. For example, the North Cascades Highway mostly runs more than 25 miles from the border. This particular provision and the whole immigration overhaul face an uncertain future in the U.S. House.

A separate provision of the U.S. Senate's immigration overhaul would forbid the Department of Homeland Security from charging a border-crossing fee at land crossings, which are currently free. This is a rebuff to President Obama's budget writers. The administration wanted to study charging a fee to defray the cost of processing drivers, cyclists and pedestrians at land ports of entry.

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.