Under current law, the Border Patrol is allowed to conduct certain enforcement activities within 100 miles of the U.S-Mexico border that it isn’t permitted to in areas further interior. In fact, some have dubbed this 100 mile radius a “constitution-free zone” because of the broad authority Border Patrol exercises there. One example of their activities in this zone is the operation of permanent and temporary interior checkpoints located on routes of egress from the border. The stated purpose of these checkpoints is to apprehend smugglers and recent entrants who were not apprehended at the border, however border residents and others contend that Border Patrol often goes too far.
Some of the issues created as a result of these checkpoints were highlighted this week in a hearing held by the House Homeland Security Committee. Lawmakers from both parties and border residents expressed concerns about the effectiveness of checkpoints and their negative impacts on border communities.
Christian Ramírez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, testified about civil liberties violations that border residents frequently encounter including racial profiling, excessive force, and unlawful searches and seizures at checkpoints. He described how border residents, including children, are effectively forced to carry proof of identity and citizenship because of the existence of checkpoints in their communities. In addition, Dr. Elyse Golob, a witness who published a 2015 University of Arizona assessment of checkpoints, explained that the checkpoints create public safety issues and inconvenience for residents and may contribute to a decrease in tourism and real estate values in the border region.
A 2015 American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico report Guilty Until Proven Innocent, also confirms broad civil liberties violations. Border residents in New Mexico reported that the Border Patrol singled residents out for questioning and searches, subjected them to verbal and physical abuse, and interfered with emergency medical treatment by requiring first responders to stop and submit to searches at checkpoints. Residents reported that Border Patrol agents at checkpoints treated residents differently based on their appearance.
At the hearing, Mark Morgan, the new Chief of the Border Patrol, testified on the importance of a multifaceted approach to border enforcement that relies on not one but rather multiple lines of defense. He acknowledged, however, that the concerns with checkpoints were legitimate and said he would investigate them further.
In his new role, Chief Morgan has a real opportunity to re-evaluate the use of checkpoints, create additional oversight and accountability mechanisms and ban the racial profiling that results from these checkpoints. The checkpoints are but one example of the lack of checks and balances that plague our nation’s largest law enforcement agency.
Photo by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.