Courts & Corrections

Gregg: Border Patrol checks IDs of bus passengers in White River Junction

(This column by political columnist and news editor John Gregg was published in the Valley News on Aug. 2, 2017.)

More than a decade ago, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. Border Patrol began running a traffic checkpoint along Interstate 91 southbound at the rest area in Hartford.

Federal officials were looking for undocumented immigrants and potential terrorists, but the main byproduct was aggravation for Upper Valley motorists who resented being randomly questioned by government agents so close to home.

This week, the Border Patrol — which says a federal court case has given it the authority to stop and question travelers in the United States within 100 miles of an international border — returned to the Valley, albeit in a slightly different fashion.

Two Border Patrol agents boarded a Greyhound bus that had just arrived at the White River Junction station from Boston at 2 a.m. on Tuesday, according to Danielle Bonadona, a Lebanon resident who was aboard the late-night bus.

“They wouldn’t let us get off,” she said. “They boarded the bus and told us they needed to see our IDs or papers.”

Bonadona, a 29-year-old American citizen who is an instructor in Dartmouth’s film and media studies department, said the agents spent about 20 minutes on the bus, which had roughly 20 passengers. The agents “only checked the IDs of people who had accents or were not white,” she said.

“They just asked me if I was American,” said Bonadona, who described herself as “Caucasian-presenting.” When passengers finally were able to leave, two women were at least temporarily held back while the agents checked their immigration status, said Bonadona, who left for home at that point.

Bonadona said she was aware of the 100-mile rule, but said the experience of being stopped and searched in White River Junction felt “pretty unconstitutional.”

“It would be one thing if we were at the Canadian border, sure, but stopping people going between domestic states is a little extreme,” she said.

Brad Brant, the special operations supervisor for the U.S. Border Patrol’s Swanton Sector, said the operation early Tuesday morning was a “transportation check operation,” as opposed to a traffic checkpoint. “We are making sure that anybody who illegally crossed the border and made it to that location and is using that transportation method doesn’t go any farther,” he said.

Brant said such patrols are common at bus stations in Plattsburgh, N.Y., and Massena, N.Y., and also occur at Burlington’s terminal, but are “not common” in White River Junction. Within the Swanton Sector, which also includes Vermont and all of Grafton County and northern New Hampshire, Border Patrol continues to operate regularly an interior border checkpoint on Interstate 87 in upstate New York. “That’s the only big one we run (in the Swanton Sector). We run smaller ones in New York as manpower allows and intelligence dictates,” Brant said.

Asked if a traffic checkpoint was likely to return to the Valley, Brant said he didn’t know. He also said he could not immediately determine whether the two women Bonadona said were being questioned about their immigration status had been taken into custody.

News of the search of the bus didn’t sit well on Wednesday with Vermont’s two Democrats in Congress.

“I’m concerned whenever Vermonters are challenged or when their travels are routinely disrupted without any suspicion,” said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who was a critic of the I-91 traffic checkpoint. “This seems to be a way to show action in light of President Trump’s executive orders. It is a waste of time and taxpayers’ money.”

And U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, a Norwich resident, also wasn’t happy, and like Leahy called for comprehensive immigration reform instead of the Border Patrol stops.

“Indiscriminate enforcement actions can have a chilling effect on law-abiding persons living in the shadows who want nothing more than to feed their families. Many have been in our country for years,” Welch said. “The correct course of action is for Congress to get off the sidelines and undertake a comprehensive reform of immigration laws that provides an appropriate path out of the shadows to citizenship.”

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  • Arthur Hamlin

    So now we’re being asked for our “papers”? This is not the the kind of country my ancestors fought for.

    • Thomas Sperry

      Don’t worry you don’t need your “papers” to vote.

      • Daphne Black

        You need them to REGISTER to vote.

    • Jamie Carter

      Anytime law enforcement stops a person they ask for identification. This is nothing new and it’s exactly the kind of country your ancestors fought for. There is a system of laws and order. in this country that you have to follow. Our congressman could introduce a law creating a new visa for migrant farm workers but that’s far and away too simple and easy and afterall they don’t actually want to fix the issue, that takes away great political fodder for the easily swayed population.

      • Mike McNally

        When a cop stops you they have to have cause, ICE can check anyone near the border on the presumption that they might be here illegally. 99.9% of the time they are here fair and square, but ICE still harasses them. And we call it “Security”.

    • Homer sulham

      I’m sure you realize that it is a much different society today than it was.

  • Edward Letourneau

    Reform would be much simpler if the good congressmen understood the difference between an immigrant and an illegal alien. But some concepts just seem to baffle these folks.

    • Mike McNally

      The difference is bureaucratic process, both types want to come and be productive. even if 1 in 10 immigrants want to be a leech on society, which is an extreme exaggeration of the actual “problem”, how can you refuse the remaining 9 the chance at a better life?

      Since the comments section loves anecdote, In my town there are help wanted signs everywhere! Why should we discourage immigration at this time?

      • Neil Johnson

        We also have many people on public assistance, perhaps we found a match that works for everyone.

  • I am very uneasy about American citizens having to “show papers.” I hope the VT chapter of the ACLU can help. It feels like harassment.

    • Richard Ley

      No one should be hesitant to show papers in today’s world

      Safety of the people should be first on everyone’s mind

    • Matt Young

      The ACLU only helps certain groups, I contacted them about some serious issue with the public school system and they didn’t even respond.

  • jan van eck

    That rather oblique reference to an “interior border checkpoint on I-87 in upstate New York” could stand a little more fleshing out. It sits on a lonely stretch of the Southbound highway some 80 miles or so South of the Border, and is a permanent stop. All traffic – both lanes – grinds to a halt and Border personnel proceed to question, and occasionally search, everyone and everything. The part that is not talked about is the number of fatalities that that operation has caused. Because the traffic is running at high speed in the forested empty stretch of road, the drivers of heavy rigs come over the crest and find themselves facing both lanes of stopped traffic; unable to come to a halt, they plow into the lanes of cars with predictable results.

    At this point at least five persons have died in mangled crush deaths from having their autos rammed by heavy trucks at that “border patrol interior checkpoint.” I am confident their relatives and children are proud that their parents and siblings perished to protect Upstate New York from Middle-East terrorists swimming across the St. Lawrence River.

    Then again, so far, the total number to be found is zero. No worries; your government stands on guard for thee.

    • SteveShonokins

      The checkpoint on I-87 in North Hudson, NY is not permament, and recently reopened, for unknown reasons, after being closed for several years following numerous fatalities there. Jan is right that no terrorists have ever been located at this checkpoint, and it needs to be closed again. Soon after it reopened there was another incident there with a misdirected truck that caused a fire.

    • Jamie Carter

      Why would a permanent stop for both lanes … all traffic…be a safety problem. Presumably everyone that travels that road would be well aware of the upcoming stop and would slow down appropriately.

      • jan van eck

        Mr. Carter, the long-distance Canadian truckers and charter-bus drivers are not expecting a full-stop border inspection checkpoint 80 miles South of the Border. When it gets “busy,” then the lines of stopped traffic will extend back for miles and miles – way back of the warning signs. And because those drivers are not expecting it, in the middle of forest-land in rural New York, you get these ugly crashes.

        • Steve Baker

          Maybe they shouldn’t be on the road if they can’t stop?

          • jan van eck

            You can make that argument for the Vermonters motoring along on I-89 through Williston in cheerful disregard of the speed-limit signs, while you are at it; those seem to be treated as some optional extra, at best maybe a polite govt. suggestion. I see those guys blowing at 80, and don’t seem to slow down much in the snow, either!

    • Homer sulham

      Are you saying there isn’t enough warning signs to alert drivers?

  • Edward Letourneau

    Some people won’t understand the reason, until we have a couple more 9-11 disasters.

    • Daphne Black

      Then why aren’t we restricting people from Saudi Arabia, where most of the 9-11 terrorists came from?

  • Jamie Carter

    “The correct course of action is for Congress to get off the sidelines
    and undertake a comprehensive reform of immigration laws that provides
    an appropriate path out of the shadows to citizenship.”

    Well Rep. Welch this certainly would be ideal but as they have not done much of anything for the past 3 presidents and 15 years I’m not going to hold my breath. We also need a comprehensive tax code overhaul, and a several other major reform items… and we are all waiting for Congress to do their jobs and do it. The problem is you guys really suck at doing your jobs.

  • Mary Daly

    Hurrah for the Border Patrol doing their job. And for Sen. Leahy to call it a waste of money is a laugh. He probably wastes more money in an hour voting for his cronies wishes than this did. We need to get a handle on the immigration problem and the drug problem.

    • Liz Leyden

      These people weren’t crossing the border. And not all Americans are white.

  • As to the last comment, “you don’t need your papers to vote”, that’s true at least not in VT. Not yet, not here but in plenty of other jurisdictions as a voter suppression tactic. But let the administration’s voter fraud commission conclude its work and I’m sure that congress will call for a nationwide, “show your papers a the polls” even though elections are a core state rather than federal function. If we don’t stop this trajectory, I fear for our future and more so for our children’s future.

    • Matt Young

      Showing identification to vote is a logical procedure.

  • Mary Koen

    This is a very chilling report. The most disturbing line to me is, The agents “only checked the IDs of people who had accents or were not white,”. This is not the country we have fought and struggled to build!

  • Lori Belding

    I recall being stopped at one on 89 as we headed into Canada. We were asked if we had more than $10,000 cash on us? We didn’t but if I did would I really have said yes? I did ask the guy if we would have trouble getting back into the USA with the limited documentation my 85 year old mother had with her. He said no problem. Well he was wrong. The woman at the gate on the way back made us park and I had to drag mom and her walker across several lanes of traffic and up a step into the office. The guys in the office were like “really???” She made you come inside with this old lady? They were actually laughing. Sooooo: wrong information, no common sense and laughing at an old lady. Great work Homeland!

    • Matt Young

      Two different countries border crossings, neither one can answer for the other one. Sorry your mom was subjected to that treatment.

  • Tory Rhodin

    I have lived and worked in countries where citizens are required to carry “papers” to go about their daily business, including riding the bus. Many of these were not countries we would want to emulate. The last I knew, we are not required to carry, or show, ID to anyone in our land of the free. On another note, beyond the obvious civil rights/civil liberties issues, tying up a bus for 20 minutes on a fool’s errand will also make the humans on the bus, and the humans at every subsequent stop, 20 minutes late for wherever they were supposed to be next (just like, years ago, the rte 89 Border Patrol stop made a lot of people late to work at DHMC.)

    • jan van eck

      You are never required to “carry papers” or even identify yourself to any policeman, or do anything other than to stand tutally mute. As neither Constitutional law, nor the history of the development of the Constitution, nor even basic civics, are taught any more in the school system, you have the public – and future policemen – “educated” by Hollywood, a rather dubious source for accurate information. I would suggest learning Hungarian, and answering every question very politely in Hungarian. That should be interesting.

  • Steve Baker

    Rep. Peter Welch, also wasn’t happy! Well isn’t that a surprise?
    Who said “only checked the IDs of people who had accents or were not white?” Has that “Story” been verified?

    Look, It took them less then 1 minute per person. Perhaps some people making comments have never traveled to another country? Even the All-Liberal loved Germany is putting Facial Recognition systems in the Train Stations. I can just hear the comments if a Terrorist can through the border like they all do in Europe….

    This really is all about nothing. It’s nothing new. It’s nothing against the law.

    • Mike McNally

      You can traverse the 50 states without harassment, or at least you could before a unfortunate part of American started using immigrants for a scapegoat. White River Junction is nowhere near the Canadian Border, no one should deal with border personnel there for any reason.

    • Bruce Wilkie

      I’m pretty sure the guy who threw the bomb into the mosque this weekend in the mid-west was neither black or spoke with an accent.

  • James Hall

    To fly today, you need 2 I D documents. People meet that requirement and say little to nothing. I fail to see what the problem is. 9-11 changed a lot of practices, for a lot of people. Do we move about safely, or do we constantly look over our shoulder? If one is reluctant to come down on the side of safety and well being, well, I do not know what to tell you.

  • jan van eck

    I routinely travel in Germany. Not once have I even been stopped. I grant you, at 6-3 with blond hair, blue eyes, and square jaw, I remain the poster boy for the Teutonic Ubermensch, the tank commander with Rommel’s Afrika Korps, so I would speculate that just might be a factor. No German policeman would dream of questioning me. [As far as that goes, nobody would dream of questioning me in Vermont, either. As I said above, society now takes their cues from Hollywood movies.] {“Junge Mann, bei Uns wird dass nicht gestattet!”}

  • Liz Leyden

    Dylan Roof.

  • Jon Corrigan

    If you’d bother to check, you’d find the last administration didn’t challenge the 100 mile limit from an International border. Anybody in that zone can be stopped, detained and questioned. Perhaps you should ask Loretta Lynch why she allowed it.

  • Robert Lehmert

    The Constitution prohibits “unreasonable search and seizure”. Not being “white” at 2:00 AM or speaking with an accent is not probable cause. This is clearly unconstitutional. No need to “change the laws”. We don’t live in a totalitarian society, and this action is a symptom of a slide toward that.

  • Robert Lehmert

    At 2:00 in a bus? Even so — that is “fruit or no fruit”, not illegal detention of an American citizen without probable cause.

  • Robert Lehmert

    How is hunting for specific ethnicities on public conveyances any different than nazis checking papers hunting for undesirable ethnicities? It has more resemblance than difference. Freedom in the US is under attack since 9/11 when an “endless war” began. The words and actions of the current administration feed and give permissions to individual ICE agents which are hard to defend. This is on the slippery slope toward totalitarianism.

  • Steve Baker

    I read the article and I am sure that’s not exactly how it went down. Remember the multiple stories that were run about Muslims being harassed at the border months ago? It was a bunch of baloney, nothing ever came of it in VT digger hasn’t done a follow up since.

  • Paul Richards

    ““I’m concerned whenever Vermonters are challenged or when their travels are routinely disrupted without any suspicion,” said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who was a critic of the I-91 traffic checkpoint. “This seems to be a way to show action in light of President Trump’s executive orders. It is a waste of time and taxpayers’ money.””
    I am concerned whenever a career congressman becomes so pompous that he thinks he knows right from wrong when it comes to social justice. Hundreds of illegals (future democrat voters) have been apprehended annually when the Hartford checkpoint was in place. Contrary to Mr. Leahy’s assertions, this is not a waste of time and taxpayers money and there is no sane reason for him to use this as yet more senseless, defiant rhetoric aimed at the President of the United States.