U.S. to Randomly Check Cars in Mich.
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CASCO TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) _ Federal agents in Michigan began stopping people Tuesday at surprise checkpoints near the Canadian border to look for illegal immigrants, potential terrorists and drug and weapons smugglers.
FBI agent Dawn Clenney said counterterrorism work is especially important in Michigan, where three men have been charged with supporting terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks.
``There are strands of al-Qaida and Hezbollah and Hamas here in Michigan. I don’t want to narrow it down any further than that,″ Clenney said.
The Border Patrol checkpoints were set up near Port Huron and Trenton, areas officials say are among the state’s busiest for smuggling. The checkpoints will rotate and be unannounced.
The main purpose is to catch illegal immigrants, said Loretta Lopez-Mossman, acting chief patrol agent for the Border Patrol’s Detroit sector. But she said agents also will look for smugglers and potential terrorists.
No arrests or detentions were made Tuesday, but Lopez-Mossman said the goal was to ``disrupt smuggling.″
Such checkpoints have been common for years along the U.S.-Mexico border, and northern states including New York, Vermont and New Hampshire also use them, Border Patrol spokesman Mario Villarreal said. Border Patrol officials said a similar program will begin this week in Washington state, and that checkpoints may be set up on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula next summer.
``It’s all about homeland security. Bottom line, we are here to be vigilant about the safety and security of the American people,″ Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman Greg Palmore said.
Jo Anne Adlerstein, head of law firm Proskauer Rose LLP’s immigration practice group, said the effort could deter illegal activity but probably will not help catch terrorists because they are too sophisticated.
``It may give the impression of improved security,″ Adlerstein said.
U.S. citizens probably will not need to show identification at the checkpoints, officials said, but immigrants will be asked for proof of status.
Lopez-Mossman said all vehicles will be stopped at the checkpoints and there will be no profiling. Kary Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said she is concerned that agents might stop people based on their ethnicity.
Michigan is home to about 350,000 Arab-Americans, more on a percentage basis than any other state and trailing only California and New York in number.
Federal officials nationwide are giving immigrants more scrutiny.
Attorney General John Ashcroft announced last week that since Sept. 11 of this year, more than 14,000 foreign visitors from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria had been fingerprinted at U.S. border crossings; 179 had been arrested.
The countries are considered high-risk for terrorism. The Justice Department also announced that thousands of men from the five countries who arrived in the United States between Jan. 1 and Sept. 10 also will have to be fingerprinted and photographed.