Patrolling The Border Patrol

On about every map of the United States you’ve ever happened across, the line drawn to delineate the border between us and our neighbors to the north or south is no thicker than a single pass of a pen across a blank page, which is appropriate. In terms of geography, it’s quite possible to straddle the physical border in person and be occupying two countries at once, it’s so clearly defined.

In the parlance of the U.S. Border Patrol however, who are tasked with enforcing federal immigration laws, the border between “us” and “them” isn’t so much a thin geographical line across the page as it is a heavy-handed, bureaucratic one painted on by a two year old with a roller brush. As a consequence of the 1976 Supreme Court ruling U.S. v Martinez-Fuerte, the Border Patrol’s jurisdiction runs not just the length of the physical, geographic border, but extends 100 miles inland as well. In personal terms, if I were to travel just ten miles north from my home in Spokane Valley, Washington, I could ostensibly be stopped by Border Patrol agents inquiring if I were smuggling a Canadian family in the trunk of my car. One hundred miles from the place a Canadian family could actually be smuggled from.

While I have indeed traveled many miles north without being subject to federal agents seeking my citizenship status while still squarely in the United States, many citizens in the southern border states are increasingly running afoul of Border Patrol checkpoints that, outside of a seemingly legitimate purpose of controlling illegal immigration or smuggling, are entrapping U.S. citizens who have every right to be where they are, doing what they’re doing.

Like Clarisa Christiansen. In May 2013, traveling back home in her van with her two kids in the back seat, Christiansen stopped by the side of the road in her community outside of Tucson–over 40 miles from the U.S./Mexico border–to check her tires. Shortly after continuing on her way, she was pulled over by a Border Patrol car that had been parked close by.

The first officer inquired about her citizenship, which she provided. Under the Martinez-Fuerte decision, the questioning ought to have stopped there, as such inland stops “must be brief, minimally intrusive and immigration-focused, and that any “further detention … must be based on consent or probable cause.”

In Ms. Christiansen’s case, ain’t no Border Patrol agent got time for that. She was told at this point to exit the vehicle and submit to a search. She refused consent, taking the apparently gauche position that it’s not incumbent upon her to simply submit to a search of her vehicle, but incumbent upon them to demonstrate why they needed to. Which is the way it should be. The Fourth Amendment maintains individual rights, protecting them from various searches. It doesn’t grant government the right to search.

The situation escalated when, unsatisfied by the officer’s inability to articulate probable cause for a search, she decided to leave:

That’s when the agent’s behavior turned really threatening. He called back to the other agents, “This one’s being difficult, get the taser.” Next he opened my door, pulled out a knife, and holding it against my seat belt, he shouted at me, “Ma’am, do I need to cut you out of your seatbelt?” Then he reached into the car and grabbed my keys.

After searching her vehicle, brow-beating her about their “right” to search her vehicle–all in view of her children–and determining that she wasn’t in fact harboring members of the Sinaloa drug cartel, they left. But not before puncturing her one of her tires with a knife for her troubles. “Serve and protect” after all.

Ms. Christiansen’s ordeal is but one of several similar run-ins with Border Patrol agents. So now, citizens fed up with a federal agency who appears increasingly determined to harass the same citizenry they’re tasked to defend are now patrolling the Border Patrol.

From USA Today:

…in February, local residents and activists began to monitor the Border Patrol checkpoint on the road from Arivaca, [Arizona] to Interstate 19, four hours a day, three to five days a week. And to date, they say, they have yet to see a migrant apprehended or person arrested for drugs or anything else.

“Every time we pass through, we have to be scrutinized and asked questions that don’t relate to citizenship,” Peter Ragan said one recent sunny morning.

This is what has become of the citizen-government relationship. A federal agency grows so large that instead of focusing on “them”, they’re now increasingly looking at “us”, forcing us to look at them when we shouldn’t have to.

Such is a consequence of a government that assumes for itself broad police powers, under what would otherwise be legitimate constitutional authority. Despite our borders having clearly delineated physical boundaries, the Border Patrol has carved out for itself jurisdiction that encompasses ever increasing swaths of land that is inhabited by people who are unequivocally American, who have American constitutional rights.

The farther from the border the Patrol is able to police, the more law-abiding citizens will be caught in a net that they have no business being snared in, and the less likely that those committing an immigration offense will be apprehended.

Areas where Americans are free from government harassment are continuously shrinking, and the Clarisa Christiansen’s of the world shouldn’t have to fear molestation from their own federal agency that has grown to such largess that it shirks its constitutionally restrained charter.

But in our ersatz free republic, a 100-mile thick strip of land that runs the length of our north and south borders begins to resemble the border between the Koreas. Not a De-Militarized Zone, but rather a paramilitarized, De-Constitutionalized Zone, where the presumption of constitutional protections becomes murky against the backdrop of a Border Patrol seemingly content assuming guilt among its citizens until proven otherwise.

In a healthy republic, everyone would be up in arms about such abuses and calling for an end to a border that projects 100 miles into the U.S. proper. That the Border Patrol is still patrolling a “border” that’s apparently only ten miles away from my home 110 miles from the line on the map says all we need to know.



About Michael Haugen

Michael Haugen is a full-spectrum conservative and recent graduate from Eastern Washington University (BS Biology). His main interests in politics and public policy center around health care, education and tax reform. He'll be returning to EWU in 2014 to complete a Master's degree in Public Administration. Follow him on Twitter: @HaugenTRA

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