Border Patrol Will Scale Back Operations at 2 Checkpoints

Times Staff Writer

Faced with sharp declines in illegal-immigrant apprehensions at checkpoints in San Clemente and Temecula, the Bush administration has agreed to scale back operating hours at the Border Patrol facilities.

The decision marks a victory for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) and other local officials, who have been trying for years to shut down both checkpoints. They argue that the checkpoints are ineffective and that agents could be better used at the border or tracking down illegal immigrants elsewhere.

Issa said the agreement reached earlier this month over operating hours is the first step in eventually closing down both checkpoints.

Under the agreement, the checkpoints -- on Interstate 5 just south of San Clemente and on Interstate 15 in Temecula -- will no longer be required to be open around the clock.


Instead, Border Patrol officials now will have the authority to deploy the about 245 agents assigned to both checkpoints to other enforcement efforts such as dealing with immigrants charged with crimes in the U.S. Some agents will also be used to set up mobile checkpoints in remote areas closer to the border and alongside roads used by smugglers to transport illegal immigrants.

“The checkpoints have proven to be less effective as the years have gone by,” said Issa.

Agents assigned to the facilities should instead concentrate on arresting illegal immigrants and tracking down the 8.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., he said.

“These should be the first areas [the Border Patrol] should concentrate on. We have to look at how to best use a very scarce resource,” Issa said. “In the spirit of compromise, the Border Patrol is willing to go in the direction of what’s a priority for my district.”


Since 1996, the checkpoints were supposed to be in operation for 24 hours, but the realities of Southern California traffic and weather conditions made it impossible for the Border Patrol to meet that requirement. An investigation by the Justice Department inspector general found that during a five-month period that year the San Clemente facility did inspections on a 24-hour basis on only 22 of the 150 days studied.

The checkpoints’ limited hours of operation have led to 90% declines in illegal-immigrant apprehensions at San Clemente and Temecula since 1994, according to Border Patrol figures.

Despite the plummeting number of apprehensions, a Border Patrol spokesman in San Diego said there are no immediate plans to dismantle the checkpoints. Ben Bauman said agents at the facilities “will devote less time to the interstate checkpoints and more in areas where our intelligence system says we’ll do more good.”

Bauman said the congressional provision that the checkpoints be operational 24 hours actually makes it difficult for Border Patrol officials to use agents more effectively in areas around the facilities.


Operating hours at the checkpoints will be scaled back as soon as Congress approves funding legislation for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which could happen later this year or in early 2003.