Family Vacationing In N.H. Reeling After Arrest At Checkpoint 90 Miles From The Border

Jul 6, 2018

The Park-Lee family's trip to the White Mountains
Credit Courtesy photo

Victoria is 23 and working her way through college. Over Memorial Day weekend, she and her parents piled into the car and drove from New York for a vacation in the North of New Hampshire.

Hanging out at the hotel, taking a ride on the Cog Railway, that kind of thing.

“I mean, it was just a nice getaway to go with my parents because, you know, when I’m older, I can’t really spend time with them,” Victoria says. “And I also brought my dog too, she’s getting older and she likes being outside.”

Victoria, her mom, dad and pet Shitzu made it to the White Mountains without incident. But as they were going back home, they noticed traffic slowing down on the highway near Woodstock.

“They made it so no one could actually turn around,” Victoria says.

Her parents, Mr. Park and Ms. Lee, don’t have legal immigration status after coming to the U.S. from South Korea.

(NHPR isn’t using the family’s full names because they fear it might affect their status in this country.)

When they reached the Border Patrol officer, Park and Lee declined to answer questions about their citizenship. They were asked to pull over to the side.

Victoria came to the U.S. when she was four, she says, and is currently protected from deportation because she’s a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program or DACA.

She told them that, but it didn’t seem to matter.

“They were kind of dismissing my DACA status, saying ‘Oh, that has nothing to do with your status,’” says Victoria. “...Like, ‘you’re coming with us.’”

Victoria’s parents were arrested. But Victoria was let go and made the drive back to New York with her dog, alone.  

“I was just worried, like what if they’re going to hurt my parents? What if this is the last time I’m going to see my parents and I didn’t even get to say goodbye?” Victoria says.

 

June 15, 2018 Border Patrol Checkpoint on I-93 in New Hampshire
Credit Jason Moon for NHPR

It kind of felt like she and her family were caught in a trap, Victoria says. She had no idea immigration officers could do this kind of thing.

“Because, you know, that’s something I would suspect if we were down south, like near the southern border,” Victoria says. “But we didn’t even think about the Canadian border.”

Under a Department of Justice rule, the Border Patrol is allowed to conduct these checkpoints 100 miles from a border, and they have been since 1953. What’s harder to know is whether or not these checkpoints are happening more frequently.

CBP has repeatedly denied requests for an interview. In previous statements, they’ve called the stops a critical tool for the enforcement of the nation's immigration laws.

CBP has also said that checkpoints on the I-93 have taken place for "several decades."

After their arrest in the White Mountains, Victoria’s parents, Park and Lee, were taken to the Strafford County Department of Corrections in Dover. The County has a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to provide up to 130 beds for detainees. On June 22, 121 beds were occupied.

Jail Superintendent Chris Brackett says ICE doesn’t tell him how many of those detainees are coming from Border Patrol checkpoints. But one thing is clear.

“Primarily we have seen an increase in ICE population,” Brackett says.

The average population for ICE detainees at the Dover jail was 79 in 2016.  From January through May of 2018, the average is up to 114, a more than 40 percent increase.

At a recent immigration protest a few miles away from the jail in front of Dover City Hall, speakers from local faith-based groups and the ACLU called out the Woodstock Border Patrol checkpoints as going against New Hampshire’s values.

Just last month, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy proposed legislation which would limit the border zone -- where checkpoints are admissible -- to 25 miles.

Immigration protest outside Dover City Hall
Credit Robert Garrova for NHPR

Hannah Gurman is a historian at NYU. She points to a trend that she says has arisen since the founding of the Border Patrol in 1924: increasingly blurred boundaries between enforcement on the border and enforcement in the nation’s interior.

“Under the Trump regime, you see a vast increase in interior border enforcement,” Gurman says.

So-called interior enforcement could come in the form of arrests on highways or even on buses.

“The big change that happened under Trump, particularly in the first year, was deporting people who had been in the United States for a long time, living here with families, who had no criminal record whatsoever,” Gurman says.

After their arrest in Woodstock, Park and Lee were eventually taken to federal offices in Burlington, Massachusetts. In the parking lot, immigration attorney SangYeob Kim and I discuss the couple’s case.

Kim got word they were being held in prison and offered to act as their pro bono attorney.

“In this case there was no criminal issue at all,” Kim says.

Kim submitted letters from their church and their daughter to convince a judge that they were not a danger if they were let out of jail. Park and Lee posted a total of $9,000 bail and a judge agreed to their release.

Some friends from New York drove to Burlington to pick them up. The dad, Park, is released first. He walks out of the building by himself still in vacation attire: t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops.

It starts to rain, so he sits in the back seat of their friend’s SUV. He describes being placed in shackles every time he was transported.

“They tie like a chain and then we can’t move anything,” Park says.

Photo from Park-Lee family's New Hampshire vacation
Credit Photo Courtesy Park-Lee family

After first going to the Dover jail with his wife, they were split up and he went to a detention facility in Massachusetts.

“We can’t see each other during 23 days,” Park says.

Park begins to tear up when asked about how feels about being reunited with his wife.

But it’s not long before he’s smiling, as Lee is released from custody. Lee tells me she’s worried she’s lost her job back in New York.

As far as what’s next for this family? Fighting deportation from home, weeks after they set out for a weekend getaway in the White Mountains.