House lawmakers approved a compromise Wednesday that would keep Border Patrol checkpoints open near San Clemente and Temecula as long as the Immigration and Naturalization Service meets conditions set by Rep. Ron Packard (R-Oceanside).
Packard has fought to remove the checkpoints, claiming illegal immigration must be stopped at the border, not inland. He said the checkpoints create hazards by delaying traffic along Interstates 5 and 15 and by causing high-speed chases by Border Patrol agents.
"The INS must change the way they operate the checkpoints to make them safer and more effective," Packard said.
The terms Packard set for the checkpoints call for agents to monitor the lanes 24 hours a day, seven days a week; maintain open lanes to prevent traffic jams; and refrain from high-speed pursuits.
Under the compromise proposal, which was contained in a separate funding measure, these provisions must be met by July 1 or the checkpoints will be closed.
Packard also stipulated that a pilot commuter lane, as well as an additional two to four lanes, must be opened at the I-5 checkpoint, a few miles south of San Clemente. It is the busiest inland stop in the country and has operated since the mid-1920s.
The congressman has argued that the inland checkpoints are not cost-effective and that the funding would be better used at border checkpoints 60 miles away.
But INS officials have maintained that the inland checkpoints are their last line of defense to stop illegal immigrants and drugs.
No additional funding will be granted to fulfill Packard's requirements.
The plan lawmakers approved Wednesday is a compromise spending proposal to fund the Department of Commerce, State and Justice. The legislation must be approved by President Clinton before becoming law.