Agency has ceased operating Woodstock, N.H. checkpoint, agrees to refrain from further activities there until January 1, 2025
CONCORD, N.H. – ACLU affiliates in New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont have settled a federal lawsuit challenging unconstitutional Border Patrol checkpoints in northern New England. The ACLU filed suit in August 2020, following a series of unlawful searches and seizures at a Border Patrol checkpoint in Woodstock, N.H.—a small town (population 1,374) in the White Mountains approximately 90 miles from the Canadian border.
Border Patrol has not operated the Woodstock checkpoint—or any other temporary interior checkpoints in northern New England—since 2019. In exchange for the withdrawal of this lawsuit, Border Patrol has agreed to refrain from operating the Woodstock checkpoint until January 1, 2025.
“Border Patrol’s interior checkpoint operations are unlawful and invasive, and this settlement means the people of northern New England will continue to be free from these unconstitutional searches and seizures in Woodstock until January 1, 2025,” said Gilles Bissonnette, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Hampshire. “The ACLU will be ready to intervene if or when Border Patrol resumes these unconstitutional activities in our communities.”
The ACLU, with clients Jesse Drewniak and Sebastian Fuentes, argued these checkpoints—conducted for the claimed primary purpose of general crime control and drug interdiction—are beyond the scope of CBP’s authority. Prior to the ACLU’s lawsuit, CBP had detained hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals lawfully traveling in northern New England during the summer and fall tourist seasons without any suspicion that they may have committed a crime.
Carol Garvan, Legal Director, ACLU of Maine: “It is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment for CBP to use interior checkpoints, nearly 100 miles from the border, as a ruse to unlawfully search and seize people for the purpose of so-called general crime control. Yet this is exactly what CBP had done with checkpoints in northern New England. We are proud to say that this practice will not occur in Woodstock through 2024, and we will remain vigilant to ensure people’s rights are respected and hold Border Patrol accountable.”
Sebastian Fuentes, a United States citizen living just five miles away from the Woodstock checkpoint, was ensnared in the checkpoint and was deeply troubled by his experience there—so much so that he returned to document how they are conducted.
“This agreement between the two parties does not benefit a single individual but the community as a whole,” said Sebastian Fuentes. “Allowing New Hampshire residents to freely navigate through New Hampshire roads unobstructed is essential. People travel north to enjoy the landscape and run away from the hectic urban world. Having Border Patrol detaining you 100 miles from any border is not the New Hampshire way.”
Jesse Drewniak, a United States citizen residing in Hudson, New Hampshire, was one of the people ensnared in an August 2017 stop at the Woodstock checkpoint. He was returning home from a fly-fishing trip in the White Mountains, where he frequently travels to fish, forage, hike, and swim. Mr. Drewniak and fifteen others were charged with the violation-level offense of possessing small amounts of drugs for personal use (mostly marijuana), and challenged the checkpoint’s constitutionality in criminal court.
In May of 2018, the Plymouth Circuit Court concluded that “the primary purpose of the [August 2017 checkpoint] was detection and seizure of drugs,” thereby making the checkpoints “unconstitutional under both State and federal law.” As a result, the Court suppressed all evidence obtained from the checkpoint. The State then dismissed all charges against the 16 individuals in September of 2018. Learn more about that case here.
Lia Ernst, Legal Director, ACLU of Vermont: “These unconstitutional Border Patrol checkpoints offend basic notions about what it means to live in a free society. Simply put, people should not have to answer to armed and unaccountable federal agents while they are going about their daily business. It is past time for Congress to rein in this notoriously violent and abusive agency, and to advance humane border policies and comprehensive immigration reform.”
Drewniak v. DHS was brought by ACLU affiliates in New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont; Scott Harris, Steven Dutton, and Jeremy Walker of McLane Middleton; Mark Sisti; and Albert “Buzz” Scherr.
While this settlement marks a major victory, it also highlights the need for the New Hampshire legislature to take all available steps to minimize any future harms that could come to Granite Staters if Border Patrol resumes checkpoints in Woodstock or other jurisdictions.
While the State of New Hampshire cannot prohibit the federal government from conducting these checkpoints, it can help minimize the burden and harms that these checkpoints cause to New Hampshire motorists by requiring state, county, or municipal law enforcement, when informed by a federal agency, to provide the public with up to 24 hours’ notice that a federal agency intends to conduct an immigration checkpoint. Similar legislation has passed the New Hampshire House (HB 624) and was added to the House passed version of the state budget bill, but was last week taken out by Senate Finance Committee.
More case information is available here.