9.01.2010

the u.s. border is 161 kms wide

Some friends of us were recently driving near New York State's Thousand Islands, and were caught in a sudden traffic jam. They were horrified to learn that the cause was not an accident or construction, but US border patrols. Guards were stopping cars, requesting ID and questioning people about their reasons for being in the US. Our friends - who are Canadian - were offended and repulsed. Can you imagine such a thing occuring in Canada, nowhere near the border?

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."

9 comments:

Constant Vigilance said...

On a trip to Spokane last year, we got stopped by ICE officials ( force I had never heard of before or since)just before the border. The were very forceful to the point of having their hands on the holstered guns. This was ostensibly to prevent drug smuggling. How is stopping Canadians going back to Canada preventing drug smuggling.

Seemed more like ICE was meant to have a generally chilling effect.

M@ said...

Just to add a little detail, as the driver who was stopped... this occurred outside Morristown, NY, where Hwy 12 meets Hwy 37. There's a bit of an extended roundabout and a lot of trees, so by the time you see the border patrol lineup, you have no way of getting away.

This spot is only ("only") a mile and a half from the border. However, the border at that point runs along the middle of the rather wet and rather deep St Lawrence River, so unless you're in a canoe, it's unlikely that you could have crossed anywhere near that point. Two bridges cross the border in the area: the Prescott Ogdensburg bridge, which is 15 miles away, and the Thousand Islands bridge, almost 35 miles away.

We had our passports with us in the car -- we were only there for a day trip -- and I don't remember if they even looked at them; I think they might have glanced at them and handed them back. They asked where we had come over, how long we were planning to stay in the USA, and sent us on our way.

It was very weird, though. They had about a half-dozen vans and patrol cars, and there were at least a dozen people in uniform milling about. What were they looking for? Is this a regular spot-check area? Are they trying to catch smugglers? Gun smugglers? Drug smugglers? Or are they actually thinking that terrorists cross at Ogdensburg? All of these are possible, I suppose, but it's pretty ominous that we just don't know. It's not like the border patrol guys were volunteering any information.

I keep shaving off the areas of the USA that are too distressing to visit. It's getting to the point where I just don't feel safe going into that country. Land of the what now?

Skinny Dipper said...

Go to this link. http://www.youtube.com/user/CheckpointUSA . This is what to expect. Unfortunately, Canadians don't have the luxury of questioning the officers. Fortunately, this American does.

Skinny Dipper said...

To Canadians, imagine being stopped by border officials east of Windsor on the 401 or on the QEW as one enters Hamilton-Wentworth region as one leaves the Region of Niagara. In fact, imagine being stopped anywhere along the 401 in Ontario along the St. Lawrence River. Imagine being stopped on Hwy 3 in BC. What would you think if a Canadian border official asked you if can open your trunk? What if they asked you for your ID? Remember the G20 events in Toronto.

deang said...

They (ICE officials) were very forceful to the point of having their hands on the holstered guns.

Many of the Americans attracted to jobs as ICE officials and other forms of law enforcement have been raised on a diet of super-macho cops-and-soldiers violence as entertainment and seem to see their jobs as living out the media-created action hero fantasies in their heads. And if they attack and maim or permanently disable you, they'll charge you with assaulting them and they'll get away with it.

Scott M. said...

Just FYI, Canadian laws are written with a little wiggle room as well. Agents can stop you once you cross the border or "a reasonable time after you've crossed the border". Reasonable is not defined in legislation or in regulation.

That said, to my knowledge they have to have believed you just crossed the border or were going to cross -- none of this stopping folks on the 401 business...

L-girl said...

Unfortunately, Canadians don't have the luxury of questioning the officers. Fortunately, this American does.

I have to look at this more closely, but whatever makes you think US citizens have the luxury of questioning officers? They most certainly do not.

Amy said...

A NYTimes editorial on this can be found here

L-girl said...

M@, thanks for fleshing out that picture for us.

It's kind of mind-boggling how docile most people are, and how helpless we all are. As Skinny Dipper suggests, we think back to the G20, and there's that chilling effect.