Answers About Immigration Checkpoints

Checkpoints are clearly marked. All people who drive through a checkpoint are asked to reveal whether they are U.S. citizens — that is not the case at airports. And while agents at checkpoints are in full uniform, those at airports are more likely to be in plain clothes. One thing they have in common: They use the study of behaviors to determine whether someone might be without legal status or committing a crime. And both are used more as deterrents than they are for catching criminals.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CUSTOMS AGENTS AND BORDER PATROL AGENTS AT AIRPORTS?

A: There are two immigration agencies that operate at airports. One is Customs and Border Protection, which places agents at all international airports. The other is the U.S. Border Patrol, which falls under the umbrella of CBP. Border Patrol agents work mostly in airports that are within 100 miles of the border. Customs agents use an electronic system to determine whether someone is legally allowed to travel into the United States, and they are the agents travelers typically see when they return from overseas trips.

WHAT WOULD LEAD A BORDER AGENT TO DETAIN SOMEONE AT A CHECKPOINT?

A: Border agents must have "reasonable suspicion" to detain someone at airport and road checkpoints. For example, if a driver passed through a checkpoint and said he or she was a U.S. citizen but appeared to be very nervous, an agent could have reasonable suspicion that the person is lying and could question them further. If questions are not answered sufficiently and the person cannot prove his or her legal status, an agent is able to place them under arrest, process them and turn them over to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, a separate agency.

Agents often use body language to determine whether someone is acting suspiciously. They're not allowed to racially profile, but agents often become suspicious if the person they encounter does not speak English or has a thick, non-English accent. Civil rights groups argue that racial profiling at checkpoints is inevitable because there are very few other indicators an agent could use to determine culpability.

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Follow Astrid Galván on Twitter at —www.twitter.com/astridgalvan

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