America’s Internal Checkpoints

truther January 2, 2014 1

During a routine journey from San Diego to Phoenix in 2009, Pastor Steven Anderson was stopped at an inner immigration checkpoint about 70 miles from the Mexican border. A stern-looking Border Patrol agent inquired Anderson to provide evidence of citizenship and requested for authorization to search his car.

America's Internal Checkpoints

The persistent pastor declined both, citing his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He then asked to be allowed to go on his way. The request was denied.

After a period of dithering, agents announced that a police dog had alerted to potential contraband in the vehicle. They instructed Anderson to pull over into a secondary inspection area. The pastor repeatedly refused, at which point a Border Patrol agent and a state police officer simultaneously broke both windows of his car and shot the pastor with Tasers from each side, delivering lengthy and repeated shocks while Anderson repeatedly screamed in agony.

The brutality was captured on video. Anderson’s hand-held camera recorded events until moments after he was shocked, and CCTV footage captured much of what came afterward. In recorded testimony the following day, Anderson described how one of the agents involved with the incident shoved the pastor’s head into the shards of broken window glass while dragging him from the car, and forced him to the ground. Other agents joined the action, with one repeatedly beating Anderson with a baton.

Lying helplessly on the ground, the pastor was again shocked with Tasers. After several minutes, the agents finally pulled up his bloodied body and took the broken man into custody.

Anderson is a hero to the members of a growing national cause. A decentralized movement of refuseniks is increasingly fighting back against the Border Patrol’s shocking internal checkpoint system. Through civil disobedience, legal challenges, and generous helpings of YouTube, these ID scofflaws may be getting bloody, but they are actively challenging the constitutionality of a system most Americans don’t realize exists.

Papers, Or Else

Noncitizen permanent residents over 18 years old are required to carry green cards when they travel within the United States, according to the Immigration and Nationality Act. Those caught without one face a maximum fine up to $100 and/or imprisonment for up to 30 days for each offense. But you can’t tell the difference between a citizen and green card holder without seeing some kind of government identification. Given Americans’ historical antipathy toward national ID requirements, which are routine in most of the rest of the world, it comes as a surprise to many that they can be asked to provide proof of citizenship even when venturing nowhere near an international border.

More than 70 immigration checkpoints manned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) now operate well inside U.S. territory, as far away from the Mexican frontier as Sarita, Texas-nearly 90 miles north of the nearest major border crossing. The agency has used internal traffic checkpoints since 1924. Since the 9/11 attacks, the Border Patrol’s mission has increasingly emphasized preventing terrorists and illegal weapons from entering the United States. Some of the checkpoints are on roads that never intersect the border. No reasonable suspicion or probable cause or consent is required for these indiscriminate detentions. Travelers usually comply politely, not knowing-and likely not caring-that by doing so they are waiving their constitutional rights.

But not everyone plays along. As a scouring of YouTube videos, border-state news archives, and court cases can attest, hundreds of resisters, mostly males in or around their thirties, are refusing to comply, capturing the often nerve-rattling conflicts on their smartphones. They may be lone dissidents, but they have created a robust online community of checkpoint constitutionalists.

The resulting videos are never exactly the same, but they tend to follow a pattern. CBP agents, at times accompanied by area law enforcement officers, await as the motorist pulls up. Drug-sniffing dogs are often led by another CBP agent around the line of vehicles as they wait in a queue. Drivers are instructed to roll down their window if they haven’t already. The CBP agent then firmly asks the driver, along with any other passengers, if they are United States citizens.

This is when the confrontation begins.

“Am I being detained, agent?” is the common refusenik reply.

“No you are not being detained, sir,” the agent replies. “We need to know if you are a United States citizen.”

The scene is usually tense. Drivers are visibly nervous in many of the videos. It’s not easy to stand up for your rights on a lonely desert road when surrounded by German Shepherds and heavily armed men in green, military-looking uniforms.

“If I’m not being detained, then I’m free to go, correct?”

Agents are not accustomed to non-compliance. “You are not free to go until I can verify you are a United States citizen,” goes the common reply.

“Well, if I’m not free to go, does that mean I am being detained?”

At this point agents will sometimes declare that the driver is indeed being detained, but only temporarily. The refusenik will then ask why he is being detained, and request to see a supervisor. The Border Patrol cop, his supervisor, and other law enforcement officials who sense an emerging situation will gather around the vehicle. Traffic builds up. Blood pressure rises.

“You are being detained temporarily for immigration purposes. We need to know if you are a United States citizen. Please answer the question.”

The driver may then point out to the agent that at least some reasonable suspicion of criminal activity is required in order for any further detention to be lawful. If the refusenik is lucky, the built-up traffic or just the ongoing hassle of the exchange will pressure the agent to wave the driver on through.

If he is unlucky, the border cop may declare that he indeed has probable cause. At this point, the motorist has little choice but to comply with the demand to pull into secondary and submit to a search.

I have traveled several times through the internal immigration checkpoint on Highway 7 northbound from Brownsville, Texas. It’s about 85 miles from the nearest international crossing, and hundreds of cars pass through each day without ever having taken a recent trip south of the border. Taking my cue from other refuseniks, I refuse to cooperate with CBP agents’ questioning. I do not inform the agents that I am documenting the exchange.

Many of my initial conflicts were much like the generic one described above, resulting in agents eventually letting me through without me answering their questions. But after several such encounters, I experienced something different.

As I pulled into the checkpoint and refused to acknowledge my citizenship, a drug dog was led around my car. After the agent declared that the dog alerted to my vehicle, I relented and pulled into the secondary inspection area. I recorded the entire encounter with my phone. The agents led the dog throughout my car for several minutes until the search ended with no contraband discovered.

I doubted that the canine truly alerted to my vehicle so I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, seeking all video footage captured during the time and location of my seizure for evidence that the dog detected something in my vehicle. The CBP website clearly states that a dog will “alert” by sitting next to the point of interest. I wanted proof that the dog sat.

Several weeks later I received a letter from the FOIA division officer requesting clarification. After I responded with clarifications, several weeks later they sent me another letter indicating there was no video footage because the CBP deletes video after 30 days.

The Original Refusenik

The rise in anti-checkpoint activism can be traced to an Arizona man named Terry Bressi, who was forcibly removed from his vehicle and arrested at an internal checkpoint on the Tohono O’odham Reservation in southern Arizona on December 20, 2002, about 20 to 30 miles from the border. This was the first of many encounters with an internal checkpoint.

Bressi, who works at telescope installation sites as chief engineer for the University of Arizona’s Planetary Sciences Department, was traveling back to Tucson after working at a remote installation in the desert. The checkpoint was a joint task force operation including local police and the CBP. When Bressi approached the cops, he was skeptical about the order to provide ID. He hadn’t crossed any international border, hadn’t committed any crime, and was just traveling back from an Arizona worksite to his Arizona home.

Read More: reason

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One Comment »

  1. Paul January 13, 2014 at 11:53 am - Reply

    ok no video, i dont believe it!.. Ive been through Eagle Pass Texas quite a few times and have had no problems. Show respect u get respect. Im a trucker and former 5th Calvery 91/92 u no where ive been, also some of the brdr prtrl agents r former US military. This post is BS.

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