Border Patrol Checkpoint on I-15

The Border Patrol operates the Temecula Checkpoint on I-15 just north of the San Diego / Riverside County border at the southern end of Temecula. The checkpoint is at the top of the grade in Rainbow, just north of Rainbow Valley Boulevard. A similar checkpoint is on I-5 in San Clemente. (The Border Patrol is the "mobile uniformed branch of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Its mission is the detection and prevention of smuggling and illegal entry of aliens into the United States.")

Unfortunately, in order to accomplish this mission, the Border Patrol stops every car on its journey north on I-15 when the checkpoint is open, which is most of the time. (Every car is stopped, but only relatively few cars are pulled over for searching or further questioning.)

Before the year 2000, the checkpoint was only a minor annoyance to the travelers on I-15, since delays were typically only a few minutes and five minutes at worst. However, in 2000, the delays suddenly became typically 5-10 minutes, with waits of 20 minutes not uncommon and some waits of up to one hour on June 12-13. On 6/12/00, traffic was backed up for 3.5 miles, all the way to the Mission Road exit in Fallbrook.

The immediate cause of this sudden increase in delay times was a change in strategy to make every vehicle stop at the checkpoint, no matter how much this backed up traffic. Previously, the Border Patrol would stop checking vehicles when traffic backed up a half mile. But the major cause was probably the explosion in traffic along I-15, which crossed the threshold at which delays suddenly become much longer. (This is the same phenomenon where free-flowing high speed freeway traffic suddenly comes to a halt with the addition of just a few more cars.) I don't have the figures for I-15, but on I-5 traffic through the San Clemente checkpoint increased from 15,000 cars per day in 1996 to 133,000 in 1999, a factor of 9 increase in only 3 years! Caltrans reports that 90,000 vehicles per day pass through the Temecula checkpoint in 1999.

This situation has become a real nuisance to everyone traveling north on I-15 from San Diego County, as well as to the many Temecula residents who work in San Diego County. Fallbrook residents are affected in at least five ways:

These checkpoint delays have thus caused a significant decrease in the quality of life in Fallbrook already, with possibly worse effects to come.

Motorists are affected in several ways:

As a result, people are nearly up in arms protesting:

The NCT editorial makes the very interesting point that the checkpoint is a horrible waste of resources. Their conclusion:

In terms of lost work time, increased pollution from idling traffic, safety concerns, not to mention simple aggravation, the checkpoints do not return to the public the value of public money invested in them. It's time to close them down and move their agents back to the border.

The NCT obtained the statistics on what the Temecula checkpoint accomplished in 10/1/98 to 9/30/99, and calculated the cost for each one, using 40 hours per week for each of the 145 agents employed there:

This is a crazy waste of resources!!!! One might be willing to put up with a few minutes of traffic delay if something was truly being accomplished, but this is a horribly inefficient way of "the detection and prevention of smuggling and illegal entry of aliens into the United States"!

Further, these "agent hours per case" are dwarfed by the cost of motorist delays. Assuming 50,000 vehicles per day times 5 minutes per vehicle (out of the 90,000 total vehicles per day) equals 4,167 hours of vehicle time per day. The daily average hours for the 145 agents is only 828. Hence all the numbers above should be multiplied by nearly 200 in order to get the true cost of each benefit.

For example, each "suspected undocumented alien arrested" costs 2,139 agent hours and 411,000 vehicle hours! So even if there is only one person in each vehicle, each alien arrested has cost over 400,000 hours of U.S. citizen's time. This is truly nuts!

It is undoubtedly true that the checkpoints must have some deterrent effect, and thus it is too simple-minded to claim that the statistics given above are the only benefits of the checkpoint. However, the same resources now devoted to the checkpoint could surely be deployed in at least an equally effective way closer to the border. After all, the Border Patrol is charged with protection of the borders, not busting U.S. citizens for drugs.

In addition to the horrible waste of resources, this is an entirely unwarranted intrusion into our personal lives. Each of us going through the checkpoints is scrutinized to see if we "look nervous" or "might be guilty of something illegal" or "are guilty of driving while looking Mexican". Mason Weaver makes these points quite well, that this goes against all the notion of liberty held dear in the United States. We make the government get a search warrant before coming into our homes, and have strong probable cause to search our cars except at the checkpoints, where for some reason everyone gets searched.

Finally, the main rationale for the checkpoints, to prevent illegal aliens from entering the U.S., is now virtually impossible to carry out legally. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, one step shy of the U.S. Supreme Court, has ruled (U.S. vs. German Espinoza Montero Camargo) that the Border Patrol cannot "profile" (stop, frisk and arrest) people just because they look Hispanic.

"Stops based on race or ethnic appearance send the underlying message to all our citizens that those who are not white are judged by the color of their skin alone," wrote Judge Stephen Reinhardt for the majority seven judges of the 11-judge panel that heard the case.

Without Hispanic profiling, how do you think the Border Patrol agents can identify the 12 illegal aliens per day out of 90,000 cars per day? How many non-Hispanic people have you seen that are pulled over as you drive by the checkpoint?

The checkpoints must be closed. They are a violation of our liberties, an affront to Hispanics residents, inefficient, and cause significant harm to 90,000 people per day.

Remember the Fourth Amendment of our Bill of Rights:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated ..."

The checkpoints must be closed!

Unfortunately, since the Border Patrol is a federal agency, only the Border Patrol itself or Congress can make changes. As far as I am aware, the only real hope we have to make changes is for our representatives in Congress to make them happen. Thus we have to elect people this fall who will commit to making the necessary changes, and we have to keep the pressure on them to do so.

If closure is impossible for any reason, at a minimum they must be staffed immediately for all four lanes at all times, and expanded with additional lanes as soon as possible.

In 1997, Congress mandated that improvements be made to the San Clemente checkpoint to eliminate delays, and $13 million was spent to do so, including lane expansion and the creation of a "pre-approved access lane". Inland residents deserve at least the same.

Note about the legality of the checkpoints: The Supreme Court ruled in 1976 (U.S. vs. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543) that such checkpoints are permitted at least 25 miles away from the border, the inspections are not a violation of privacy, and that inspectors may check every car. I, along with many other people, certainly don't understand how this is consistent with the Fourth Amendment.

Sources: VN 7/27/00, 28, 31; NCT 4/15/00; NCT 4/27/00; NCT 6/14/00; NCT 6/15/00; NCT 7/18/00.

Update 11 September 2004: U.S. Representative Darrell Issa has been working hard for several years now to get the checkpoint closed. On 9/9/04, Rep. Issa announced that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has agreed to study whether the I-15 and I-5 checkpoints should be closed. The GAO will evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the checkpoints compared to allocating their funds to other Border Patrol activities. (LAT 9/11/04, B4)


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Last update: 11 September 2004