This weekend there was a Border Patrol checkpoint set up on southbound I-87 near North Hudson. While we did stop at the stop-sign, a Border Patrol officer waved us through over his shoulder, since they officers were busy searching the van of people more swarthy than ourselves. We've driven through there a couple of times in the past year when the checkpoint was in operation. At least once, I think I'd mistaken them for cops checking inspection stickers. According to the New York Times, this checkpoint is a post 9/11 innovation.
Being up in the Adirondacks is mostly a relief from the current Paranoia Economy in which being hassled on a daily basis is a bizarre amenity that we are all expected to pay extra and be grateful for. This kind Border Patrol of activity is one of the few signs of it up there.
After going through the check point, David and I had a long discussion of whether the Border Patrol check point was a good thing. He said it was good that they were watching for smugglers. I said border guards belong at borders, not 74 miles south. Last time I checked (and it was a couple of decades ago), border guards have additional powers that regular cops don't.
In the early 1980s, I took a Washington State Ferry to the San Juan Islands with my then-husband, a German citizen. We took a ferry back from Orcas Island that had a previous stop in Canada. When we disembarked at Anacortes, we had to go through customs even though we'd never left the US, which I found disconcerting, especially since the only ID I had on me was a Seattle Public Library card. I don't remember whether my husband had his passport on him, or just his driver's license.
My husband was a heavy smoker and so we had a very full ashtray. I remember looking on with some alarm as the Border Patrol officer leaned into our car and poked her gloved finger through the ashtray; lucky for us, there was nothing there but tobacco ashes and cigarette butts. I remember the cigarette butts recoiling like little springs and she pushed her finger though them; I'd never seen anyone stick their finger into a bunch of cigarette butts before. I also remember my horrified realization that if she weren't a customs officer, she would have needed a warrant for that. It would have been an illegal search except for those extra powers that the INS has.
So I wasn't giving David any ground: Customs should do its work at the border unless carrying out a specific inspection. If there is criminal activity on the Interstate Highways to be dealt with, regular highway patrol cops should be sufficient. You have fewer civil rights when dealing with the border patrol; and of course the Border Patrol have real cops on hand in case they happen across anything outside their jurisdiction.
So this morning, I Googled I-87 and Border Patrol, and I discovered a whole different reason to object to that check point: sometimes people get killed there. Apparently, there were a couple of really bad accidents there in 2004 because the lines got long and big semis weren't getting enough advance notice of the checkpoint, so great big trucks were occasionally rear-ending the line.
Four years ago, Senator Schumer's officer sent out a press release about fatalities at the check-point: SCHUMER: SECOND MAJOR ACCIDENT THIS YEAR WARRANTS FEDERAL INVESTIGATION OF I-87 CHECKPOINT:
US Senator Charles E. Schumer today said that Sunday night's fatal auto accident at the I-87 North Hudson Border Patrol checkpoint, the second major one at the checkpoint in seven months, should warrant a federal investigation to determine whether the checkpoint is safe as currently constituted. With some drivers saying that the checkpoint appears abruptly with too little warning, Schumer urged the federal Bureau of Border and Transportation Security to come to New York and examine the checkpoint.
"When you have not one but two major accidents at the same checkpoint in a span of seven months, it's a tragedy and a wakeup call," Schumer said. "The federal government needs to look at this checkpoint to make sure that it's as safe as it can be - and if there are changes that can be made to prevent future accidents from occurring, they need to be made without delay."
Four people were killed Sunday when a tractor-trailer truck slammed into vehicles waiting at the North Hudson checkpoint. A truck driver was approaching the checkpoint when he ran into a line of cars stopped on I-87 roughly a quarter mile before the stop. On impact, the first vehicle burst into flames and killed the three people inside. The truck then hit a pickup truck whose driver tried to maneuver out of the way and was released from the hospital with a ruptured eardrum. The truck also hit a pickup pulling a camper, which burst into flames and killed its driver.
The Border Patrol incidents make one blogger's list of 10 Deadliest Accidents in the Adirondack Mountain Region. Ouch. Never mind possible violations of our civil right, what I should have maybe been worrying about is that people get killed there. Better Living Through Paranoia. (Who knew that driving down I-87 past North Hudson was one of the most dangerous things one could do in the Adirondacks?)
After mostly not encountering the daily hassles of the Paranoia Economy this summer, going through the check point felt oddly like clearing customs back into my Westchester County life, in which paranoia is something I'm supposed to be thankful for.