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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D.C. is absolutly within 100 miles of an international border. Chicago is on Lake Michigan which an international border between Canada and the US.

Bob Baker

Are you really that sheltered and naïve? Those checkpoints have been around Alamogordo at least since I lived there in 1974. Or just watch "Border Wars" on the justice channel and see what those law enforcement people go through on a daily basis. And that picture looks way too green to be from the Alamogordo area.


As a border resident, I have been, "stopped, harassed, interrogated, and threatened" for YEARS! NO MORE! I don't roll down my windows and I pull out my phone and record them. These law encroachment types don't like cameras. LEAVE WINDOWS UP!


I hear they are stopping people over 20 miles away from the border and still creeping further. Are they going to become the American SS eventually?


I'm a migratory Canadian who has wintered in southern AZ for the last 7 years... as we are only 40 miles from the border (and for that matter only 90 miles from the beach at Puerto Penasco!) we've had many unpleasant encounters with CBP agents at checkpoints. To be completely fair, we've had just as many interesting or humorous encounters as well. And, in the last 3 years or so the interface staff have ALL been efficient, courteous and friendly in our little corner of the borderlands.

Mr. Jordison

If you look at USBP or CBP, it appears that they do what they want and when they want with no accountability when they are in the wrong. It's a great job for a total asshole born in America.

Again it doesn't matter what laws Obama passed or any president of the US before. These people are in their own little world down at the border. It's like a little pond for them, and they are the big fish that run it.

ACLU R what's w...

You know what make me anxious? The fact I have to work 40 hours a week to support my family and the families of illegal immigrants. And when you try to stand up and say something, organizations like this start screaming profiling. Really? Your majority support
comes from the communities you seem to refer to. The communities who's culture teach it's ok to have illegitimate children to gain income, to kill those that disagree with you, to blame others for their misfortune. It's not a black, white, Hispanic thing, it is a culture thing. A culture where you watch your loved one being shot in the passenger seat and you show zero emotion; you just grab a camera and start blaming others. You fail to mention the fact that murder rates in these communities will never compare to any police related statistic. If the ACLU wants to help solve the problem, help find a way to change a culture. Because until we do this "problem created by police" will only get worse.

US Citizen

I would like to know what my rights are when stopped at internal checkpoints located on I-5 north of Oceanside, I-15 north of Fallbrook and on the I-8 near Pine Valley, CA. Legally must I answer the BP agent's questions as to my name, my destination, why I'm going there, where I'm coming from, my citizenship etc., etc. What are my rights during these mass stops? Thank you.


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