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USVI Immigration Checkpoints Ruled Valid
Third Circuit Appeals Court reverses lower courts decision against checkpoints at USVI airports
By JOHN COLLINS
May 1, 2003
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, which has jurisdiction over the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), has reversed an order of the U.S. District Court of the USVI last year that declared unconstitutional the use of immigration checkpoints at USVI airports to screen passengers boarding aircraft for Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland.
The appellate court concluded the federal governments compelling interest in detecting illegal aliens after 9/11 outweighs the minimal intrusion on the liberty interests of travelers.
The case involves a Guyanese national who entered the USVI at St. Croix by presenting false identification before proceeding to the Cyril E. King International Airport in St. Thomas, where she was apprehended by Immigration officers after lying about her citizenship.
The appellate ruling overturned a decision of U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Moore, who declared that in his opinion the confession of Camille Pollard must be suppressed because it was gained at the cost of her Fourth, Fifth, and 14th Amendment rights.
"Were presently reviewing the case and the ruling to determine whether we will appeal," said Douglas J. Beevers, a federal public defender in St. Thomas. Further appeal is required within two weeks.
In conversations with several USVI attorneys specializing in immigration law, it was learned that the checkpoint procedures continue at the two USVI airports, with some describing them as somewhat more relaxed recently. One said that the most interesting aspect of the Pollard case is what impact it could have on immigration policy on the U.S. mainland in general and in the USVI and Puerto Rico in particular, since both are U.S. insular possessions with different circumstances.
The differences in immigration procedures between the USVI airports and Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in San Juan were cited and compared several times in the appellate decision. A number of attorneys say the main difference is the attitude of illegal aliens seeking entry into the U.S. The U.S. Border Patrol has increased its activities in Puerto Rico recently, whereas there is no Border Patrol in the USVI or in the waters surrounding that territory. Illegal aliens apprehended on the high seas are returned to their country of origin. If they reach land, however, they are entitled to seek political asylum.
In his ruling, Moore contrasted the checkpoints in the USVI with the free movement of people from state to state within the U.S. "Checkpoints, like those in the USVI, arent employed in Hawaii, Alaska, or in any other state in the union," he said. "Nor are passengers flying from Puerto Rico or the U.S. mainland to the USVI subject to such a cattle chute departure-control point. In fact, there is absolutely no check by Immigration of passengers flying from Puerto Rico to the USVI."
Beevers, Pollards public defender, argued that the procedure is unique to the USVI. Its not handled the same way in any other U.S. offshore territory. Moore described the checkpoints as "unnecessary, ineffective, intrusive, and oppressive."
"Many of the illegal aliens who enter the USVI intend to travel to the U.S. mainland, and the checkpoints would deter many of them from entering there," ruled the three-judge appellate court panel in Philadelphia. "Requiring persons traveling from the USVI to pass through the checkpoints is undoubtedly a rational means of furthering the interest of interdicting aliens," the panel concluded.
This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.