HEARING HEARD ON SUIT ALLEGING INS AIRPORT BIAS

April 5, 2002 – District Court Judge Thomas Moore heard arguments on Thursday in a criminal case that raises questions of whether the federal government's immigration control at Cyril E. King Airport violates the civil rights of Virgin Islanders because of race.
Camille Pollard was charged in May 2001 with falsely claiming U.S. citizenship after she was stopped by Immigration and Naturalization Service agents at the airport. Federal Public Defender Douglas Beevers has asked the court to suppress evidence collected during the stop, claiming that the immigration checkpoint violates constitutional rights to equal protection under the law.
In District Court on Thursday, Beevers noted that airline passengers traveling within the United States or from other U.S. jurisdictions to the mainland do not have to go through immigration control. He said that the immigration control is unique to the Virgin Islanders because the majority of its population is black.
"It's not handled the same way in any of the offshore territories of the United States that do not have a majority black population," Beevers said. "In order for the seizure to be valid, it must be coordinated in a way that does not discriminate illegally against certain groups."
Beevers said passengers flying to the U.S. mainland from Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico do not have to go through strict immigration control. The procedure for passengers from the Virgin Islands, however, is similar to foreign border control.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Chisholm argued that federal law allows for immigration control for people leaving the Virgin Islands. The checkpoint is constitutional, in part because all passengers, regardless of their place of origin, must go through the control, she said.
"The defendant has the burden of showing there is discrimination," she said, contending that Beevers has not done so.
In calling for Thursday's hearing, Moore said he needed more information to determine whether a need exists for having the immigration control at CEK airport. In previous federal court cases, judges have said the constitutionality of searches is determined by a balance between the state's need to conduct the searches and individuals' rights.
Donnie Smith, INS port director for the Virgin Islands, said inspectors ask basic questions about destination and nationality and ask to see documentation. The vast majority of passengers get waved through within 15 seconds, he said.
U.S. citizens are not required to show passports, Smith said, but if an inspector has concerns about a person's nationality, the inspector may ask further questions. If the inspector still is not satisfied, the passenger is asked to go into a separate room for further questioning and computer checks, he said.
Moore is considering the motion to suppress the evidence against Pollard. Her trial is pending.

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