For many of you, it comes as no surprise that surveillance towers along public highways, suspicionless checkpoints in the interior of the country and unreasonable searches and seizures have become common themes in the federal government's ongoing war of terror. In few places is this more apparent than to those of us who live and work within 100 miles of the Southern border. A sort of Constitution-free zone where all individuals are considered guilty by federal agents who, more often than not, are.
Take for instance a Homeland Security checkpoint I was stopped at in April 2005. All East-bound traffic along State Route 86 was being stopped by Border Patrol agents while seized vehicles were being loaded onto a tow truck in the background. After being stopped, one of the agents demanded my citizenship while failing to identify herself, the purpose of the stop, or its scope. She also failed to explain why travelers in the interior of the country were being seized and harassed absent reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing while the border she was being paid to patrol was over 40 miles to the South.
In response to the demand for my citizenship, I asked the agent to identify herself and the purpose of the stop. Reasonable requests from any freedom loving American in such circumstances. Instead of responding however, the agent demanded that I pull my vehicle off to the side of the road. I asked if I was being detained and was assured I was not. When I requested to leave however, I was told I wasn't free to go.
As this surreal conversation continued, one of the agents actually stated:
"Uhmm, we went to the academy and we had to learn the law sir. Your... it's not a reasonable suspicion to be pulled over, it's called mere suspicion to be pulled over to a secondary...."
Shortly thereafter, another agent attempted entry into my vehicle and demanded that I unlock my door even though according to them, I wasn't being detained. As I sat there at a suspicionless checkpoint on a public highway in the land of the free and home of the brave while not quite being detained but not quite free to leave, the federal agent continued trying to break into my vehicle. Eventually common sense won out however and a third agent indicated I was free to go but not before recording my license plate and stating, “we'll find out who you are”.
After being allowed to continue my travels, I went home and posted a web page documenting the encounter complete with photographs and AV recordings. I also sent correspondence to my Congressmen and the Tucson Sector Border Patrol Headquarters.
Amazingly enough, within four days of posting the web page, a Department of Homeland Security computer began hitting the website multiple times a day and downloading hundreds of megabytes of data. This harassment continued for several weeks until I finally blocked access. Even more interesting however was that several weeks after the incident, the Border Patrol packed up their surveillance tower and 'High Intensity Enforcement Area' signs along SR86 and relocated them to Yuma, Arizona. Little explanation was offered regarding the relocation after having been present for nearly two years.
While the Border Patrol has never directly responded to my inquiries, I have received responses from the offices of Congressmen Grijalva and Senator Kyl. Congressman Grijalva's office has an open inquiry nearly a year later and has indicated DHS continues to stonewall their requests for information while refusing to explain why federal agents attempted to break into my vehicle without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.
Senator Kyl's Office has been less responsive but did forward a letter from the Tucson Sector BP Headquarters that I have responded to. Amazingly enough, the Border Patrol admits in the letter that contraband interdiction is one of the primary purposes for such interior traffic checkpoints even though the Supreme Court has consistently ruled such checkpoints are unconstitutional. This hasn't deterred the Border Patrol from conducting such checkpoints under color of immigration enforcement however.
Given the government's well documented disregard for constitutional constraints, we can expect more of the same until a critical mass of individuals say enough is enough. Until that time comes...
Welcome to Checkpoint, USA.