The United States Constitution – it’s the final word of the law from sea to shining sea. But according to the American Civil Liberties Union, if you live within 100 miles of the US border, be it sea or land, your constitutional rights don’t fully apply to you. Specifically, the fourth Amendment of the Constitution.
The fourth amendment, for those who haven’t studied civics in a while, is:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
But according to the United States government, basic constitutional principles do not apply at our borders, or so-called “ports of entry.” In these border zones, federal authorities do not require a warrant or even suspicion of wrong-doing to justify what the courts call a “routine search,” of things like luggage or your vehicle. But these border zones don’t impact border cities like El Paso and San Diego exclusively. These border zones extend 100 miles inland. That covers effectively two thirds of the American public; some 200 million people.
Inside of this hundred mile zone, Border Patrol and federal agents enjoy broad, though not limitless, powers. These powers include what you might call “extra-Constitutional” powers like setting up checkpoints and violating the fourth amendment.
Some states, like Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, and Hawaii lie either completely or almost completely inside of these zones. Of then ten largest metropolitan areas in the country, Denver, Colorado is the only one that doesn’t lie within this orange zone.
So who was the politician who implemented this rule? Was it George W. Bush, thinking that the Muslims were gonna show up in boats to come get us? Or was it Barack Obama, hoping to infringe further on the privacy of his countrymen? Well,. it was neither. This 100 mile border zone was adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice during the height of the cold war in 1953. It was adopted with no public comment or any sort of a debate. When it was adopted, there were 1,100 border agents. Today, more than 21,000 people are employed as border agents.
Even though this is set in stone in the orange area, the Border Patrol often ignores even this regulation and rejects any kind of geographic limitation on their authority. At least two federal circuit courts condone the border patrol operations inside of that hundred mile zone. Inside and outside of it, border patrol agents are able to stop, interrogate, and search innocent Americans and are absolutely doing so on a regular basis. From the ACLU:
For example, Border Patrol, according to news reports, operates approximately 170 interior checkpoints throughout the country (the actual number in operation at any given time is not publicly known). The ACLU believes that these checkpoints amount to dragnet, suspicionless stops that cannot be reconciled with Fourth Amendment protections. The Supreme Court has upheld the use of immigration checkpoints, but only insofar as the stops consist only of a brief and limited inquiry into residence status. Checkpoints cannot be primarily used for drug-search or general law enforcement efforts. In practice, however, Border Patrol agents often do not limit themselves to brief immigration inquiries and regularly conduct criminal investigations and illegal searches at checkpoints. The Border Patrol also frequently pulls over motorists in “roving patrol” stops, often without any suspicion that an immigration violation has occurred.
The ACLU routinely documents violations and abuses by the Border Patrol and has filed lawsuits to obtain more information about the agency’s practices.
It’s simply impossible to divorce all of this from what is a clear desire on behalf of the federal government to pry into the lives of ordinary Americans. A prime example of this is the authority of the Customs and Border Protection agency to search the electronic devices of travelers, like their lap tops and cell phones, at ports of entry. Due to the private information on the electronic devices of so many people, it ends up being a severe invasion of privacy.
Consequently, over the last few years, numerous new technologies have been implemented at the border, like an Automated Targeting System for a “traveler risk assessment program,” the “virtual border fence” and various unmanned drones. It’s further leading down the slippery slope of militarization of the border zone.
The ACLU wraps this all up pretty well:
The expansion of government power both at and near the border is part of a trend toward expanding police and national security powers without regard to the effect of such expansion on our most fundamental and treasured Constitutional rights. The federal government’s dragnet approach to law enforcement and national security is one that is increasingly turning us all into suspects. If Americans do not continue to challenge the expansion of federal power over the individual, we risk forfeiting the fundamental rights and freedoms that we inherited—including the right to simply go about our business free from government interference, harassment and abuse.
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