We already know that the US border is a Constitution-free zone, where laws prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure do not apply. (Of course, for millions of US citizens, the entire US is a Constitution-free zone.) But many people are unaware that, since 2001, the "border" has become an elastic area up to 100 miles (161 kilometres) wide.
While several people sent me a recent New York Times story on transportation checks, this story appeared two years earlier in USA Today.
Border Patrol agents are stepping up surprise inspections on domestic trains, buses and ferries, nabbing illegal immigrants far from the border.
In Vermont, Washington, Louisiana, New York and elsewhere, the agents, who have the authority to search any mode of transportation within 100 miles of the border, are working routes that don't cross into Canada or Mexico. Most checks are at bus and train stations and ferry terminals.
"The first line of defense is on the immediate border," says Joe Giuliano, deputy chief in the patrol's Blaine, Wash., sector, which includes Alaska and Oregon. "We have to have a second line of defense."
In February, agents began checking passengers taking the ferry between Washington's San Juan Islands and the terminal in Anacortes, Wash. So far, Giuliano says, they have caught 59 illegal immigrants, two with criminal records, and eight U.S. citizens, most on drug violations.
The patrol started ferry checks after hiring more agents, he says. "To be honest, it's something we should have done for a long time," he says. "We were so short on resources."
Immigrant and civil liberties advocates argue that the agents focus more on certain passengers based on skin color and accent.
"They will see a white person and ask, 'Where were you born?' Then they will see a person of color and ask, 'Do you have ID?' " says Caroline Kim with the Detainment Task Force in Syracuse, which provides bail for some detained immigrants and helps them through the legal process.
The Border Patrol says it does not engage in racial profiling. . . .
This story in Wired also followed up on an incident in 2008.
Government agents should not have the right to stop and question Americans anywhere without suspicion within 100 miles of the border, the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday, pointing attention to the little known power of the federal government to set up immigration checkpoints far from the nation’s border lines.
The government has long been able to search people entering and exiting the country without need to say why, which is known as the border search exception of the Fourth Amendment.
After 9/11, Congress gave the Department of Homeland Security the right to use some of its powers deeper within the country, and now DHS has set up at least 33 internal checkpoints where they stop people, question them and ask them to prove citizenship, according to the ACLU.
"It is a classic example of law enforcement powers expanding far beyond their proper boundaries – in this case, literally,” said Caroline Fredrickson, who heads the ACLU’s Washington, D.C., Legislative Office.
The ACLU says it has scores of complaints from citizens and wants Congress to investigate and roll back the buffer zone. According to a map the rights group released Wednesday, some 190 million citizens live within what the ACLU dubs the "Constitution-free Zone."