El Paso sheriff suspends vehicle checkpoints amid criticism


By ALICIA A. CALDWELL
Associated Press Writer

EL PASO, Texas- The sheriff of the border-area county of El Paso on Friday suspended vehicle checkpoints that have been criticized as racial profiling and said deputies would no longer refer undocumented immigrants to the U.S. Border Patrol based solely on immigration status.

A federal lawsuit filed last month alleges that deputies, working as part of the state-funded operation, illegally stopped a public bus and detained several Hispanic people because they did not have identification.

Illegal immigrants arrested on local or state charges are still referred to the Border Patrol, the federal agency responsible for policing the country's border and apprehending illegal immigrants, Sheriff Leo Samaniego said.

That policy became effective about two weeks ago, he added.

In a prepared statement, Samaniego said the checkpoints were part of a "routine traffic safety program" aimed at ensuring that drivers in El Paso County were licensed, insured and driving legally registered and maintained vehicles.

"The primary focus is public safety and not apprehension of undocumented immigrants," Samaniego said at an afternoon press conference.

Other immigrant advocates have charged that Hispanics stopped at the checkpoints were often asked for social security cards to prove their identity.

Samaniego, who would not answer any questions at the news conference, has denied any wrongdoing. He would not say how long the checkpoints would be suspended.

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