This piece was originally published in The Hill.

Where are you going? Why are you going there? When did you purchase your vehicle? Can I search your car? Do you have a body in the trunk?

These are some of the questions agents ask me when I cross through a Border Patrol checkpoint. Before I moved to Alamogordo, New Mexico, to teach, I had no idea such military-style checkpoints existed within the United States. To be clear, I’m not talking about something you encounter at the U.S.-Mexican border; these checkpoints are in an American town. Border Patrol operates checkpoints located upwards of 100 miles into the U.S. This “100-mile zone,” where roughly 200 million people in the U.S. live, sometimes feels like occupied territory.

I never faced anything like this in Minnesota, where I’m from. I cannot imagine that people living back home or in Washington, D.C., or Chicago — both located within the 100-mile zone — would stand for a federal agency blocking every route out of their city and forcing them to answer invasive questions from aggressive agents.

Border residents here on our southwest border, however, face routine interrogations at checkpoints as we go about our daily lives.

My recent experience at a checkpoint located between Las Cruces and Alamogordo, New Mexico, is emblematic of the disrespectful treatment we are forced to endure. After dutifully verifying my U.S. citizenship, the Border Patrol agent asked how I was related to the passenger in my car. When I refused to answer that question and any other unrelated to my citizenship, as I have every right to do, he bristled and pressed her for more details. When he was finally finished, he said snidely, “Have fun with your rights.” A reference, perhaps, to his infringement on our right, as U.S. citizens, to travel freely within our country.

This “100-mile zone,” where roughly 200 million people in the U.S. live, sometimes feels like occupied territory.

These stops are invasive and anxiety producing for me, a white person. But the stakes are far higher for Latinos. When I go through, it’s an inconvenience. When my Latina roommate commutes through a checkpoint, she’s put on trial. And she isn’t alone. The ACLU uncovered 6000 pages of complaints alleging abuses that include verbal abuse, threatening behavior, and racial profiling.

Racial profiling is wrong. If we truly value human dignity and fairness, then allowing a federal agency to stop and frisk people of color in border communities, predominantly Latino/a motorists, is not only unjust but also represents a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Currently, Border Patrol agents don’t have to report any of their stops or searches that don’t result in arrests. We frequently hear accounts from Latinos in border communities of officers singling them out and mistreating them for no apparent reason, but without transparent, publicly accessible data about these occurrences, we’ll never know exactly how widespread the problem is or the scope of the resources needed to eradicate it.

As long as these checkpoints exist, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kerlikowske should implement reforms that mirror President Obama’s recommendations to local police and sheriff departments in an effort to rebuild community trust and transparency: strictly prohibit racial profiling, require Border Patrol agents to file reports that include racial demographics on all stops and searches, and implement a system for publicly reporting the data. Only then will we have the information we need to hold Border Patrol accountable to the same reforms rightfully urged of police departments nationwide.

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Mike G

I have been through that stop across from White Sands National Monument, on White Sands Missile Range, many times. I always thought of it as the price of freedom along with the occasional sonic boom of Holloman Air Force Base.
Freedom isn't free - not just a cliche' to me.
I thank those US Custom and Border Patrol agents for performing their thankless job.


If an agent asks what your citizenship just answer. If he asks anything else after just ask if the checkpoint is for immigration purposes. They will say yes, after that they cannot hold you or at least shouldn't . If you have passengers each one has to answer for themselves. Racial profiling in border towns, that makes no sense. I have grown up and and lived on border towns and the majority are "latinos" so guess what more latinos will be asked more questions! If they interogate it's because their not satisfied with the evidence. Just be honest, one word answers and move on. If you become defensive that just raises their suspicion. Most of the time if not 95 percent of the time every person answers with no problems. Imagine a kid, your kid, when you catch them in a lie they become defensive. A lot of times arrests are made by simple questions, "where you headed"..."Dallas"..."what's the team there"..."the yankees"? When agents talk to you their making their judgement not small talk. If you are so concerned reach out to the station and speak to the station's public information office, they can answer a lot and take formal complaints.


Zank you for yoour cooopercion. Heil Drumpf!


I get stopped every time I go to the Glamis sand dunes in CA although I am a senior citizen, white and usually tow a trailer load of ATV's. The Border Patrol is checking for illegals along a very common entrance and I don't consider it an inconvenience or harassment that they ask me questions. In 1960 I took a Greyhound bus from Tucson to L.A and somewhere along the way the bus was stopped and every person on it was asked if they were a citizen. I didn't consider that harassment either. Of course, we hadn't been overrun with illegals yet at that time.


I used to live in Alamogordo and I was never bothered by the border patrol agents at the check stations on the roads from El Paso or Las Cruses. We used to saybthatvwe lived in a gated community.


How is it racial profiling if the article writer is white?

Calvin Hayhow

Most of Michigan is in the 100 mile zone. After 911, Homeland Security started check points. They lasted about 6 months, never to be repeated. Very difficult to establish check points in an area of over 6 million people. Too much scrutiny would bring bad publicity. Homeland basically caught a couple of indigenous people from the Canadian side and a couple of guys from eastern Europe near the Detroit River. Just a gigantic waste of money and time.


We need to do everything we can to make America safe. These illegals are coming to America many ways and avoiding the Border Crossings. To do a search 100 miles inside the border is smart. If you are here legally and have nothing to hide... what is the big deal? My Constitutional right is for the USA to keep me and my family safe.


Get a GoPro, put it on your dash, and videotape these encounters. People don't believe verbal testimony. The video don't lie.


Umm, Chicago and Washington D.C. are no where near within 100 miles of a U.S. border as stated in this article.


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