Leahy Amendment To Limit Border Zone Vehicle Stops And Searches of Private Land Is Included In New Bipartisan Border Agreement

Leahy-Murray Plan Adds Key Oversight Protections; Leahy-Supported Provisions On Summer Work Travel And Artist Visas Also Included In The New Compromise

WASHINGTON – The bipartisan immigration compromise reached in the Senate Friday includes a key provision championed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to help protect the privacy and property rights of millions of people who live near the Northern Border.  It makes significant progress in addressing the broad border zones where officials may stop vehicles and enter private land without warrants.

Other Leahy-related provisions included in the compromise agreement include improvements to the visa program for visiting artists, and for the Summer Work Travel program.  The compromise also includes a new youth jobs program advanced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Leahy is managing the Senate debate on the bill, which now is in its third week.  In the earlier drafting and committee markup of the immigration reform bill, Leahy already has included his amendments for a visa program for dairy farm workers, to bar the imposition of fees for automobile crossings across the Northern Border into the United States, and to make clear that the bill does not authorize fencing on the Northern Border.

Leahy’s work to limit the expanse of border zone vehicle stops relates to his longstanding concerns about checkpoints used in Vermont on I-91, far from the Northern Border.  Under current law federal agents have broad legal authority to stop vehicles and search private land without a warrant for the purpose of patrolling the border.  This broad authority often means that large swaths of land in small states like Vermont and densely populated cities within 100 miles of a border are subject to vehicle checkpoints, and to agents having access to private land within 25 miles of the border.

The current policy has enabled U.S. border authorities to set up temporary checkpoints on I-91 near White River Junction – a practice that Leahy has questioned in many hearings with Department of Homeland Security officials over the years.

The new amendment authored by Leahy and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) would limit to 25 miles the distance from the border within which Customs and Border Protection (CPB) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents may conduct vehicle stops, and to 10 miles the distance from the border for searches of private land without a warrant, while giving the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) flexibility to extend these zones when needed.  The Leahy-Murray amendment also includes reporting requirements to facilitate oversight of how the restrictions are implemented.

Leahy said, “The wide latitude in current law for setting up checkpoints far from our borders has led to maximum hassles of law-abiding local residents, with minimal value to border enforcement.  In Vermont it would be easy for anyone who crossed the border 100 miles back to avoid these checkpoints simply by using any of the many other roads that bypass the checkpoints.  This is an intrusive practice for local residents, subjecting Vermonters to needless and pointless delays and questioning.  It simply is not a productive use of border enforcement dollars.  The wide leeway for accessing private property without permission or warrants is also excessive, and it should be limited.”

The compromise announced Friday also includes Leahy’s provisions for visas for visiting artists, co-authored with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), addressing bottlenecks in the current process.  For years nonprofit arts organizations, including the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and other Vermont arts groups, have been frustrated by the slow pace and inconsistency of adjudications of O and P visas.  These are temporary visas provided to foreign performers with extraordinary ability in the arts, many of whom are visiting classical musicians performing with U.S. orchestras.  Despite repeated attempts by arts organizations to encourage U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to improve the processing of these visas, problems remain.  Leahy and Hatch have proposed improvements to the processing of these visas to ensure timeliness and predictability so visiting musicians can maintain performance schedules

Also included in the compromise package of amendments are improvements Leahy worked to include to the Summer Work Travel program, which allows students from around the world to come to the United States for several months to work and experience American culture. Vermont businesses host many of these international students, and changes Leahy supported will ensure that the program continues to run effectively and provide quality experiences for the students involved.    

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