Homeland Security Assuming Broad Powers, Turning Vast Swaths of U.S. into "Constitution-Free Zone"

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

You’re driving along a remote, dusty road, when suddenly you come upon a border patrol checkpoint. There, agents demand to see your identity papers, and search your car. You are taken by surprise, because you know you haven’t wandered across the Texas-Mexico border. In fact, you’re quite sure of that, because you’re driving through rural Wisconsin countryside west of Green Bay. Even the Canadian border is more than 90 miles away.

This scene is not as far-fetched as you might want to believe. The government is turning vast swaths of our country into a “Constitution-Free Zone” in which U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is allowed to exercise extraordinary authority that would not normally be permitted under the Constitution. The government says that “the border” — where there is a longstanding view that the Constitution does not fully apply — actually stretches 100 miles inland from the nation’s “external boundary.” And increasingly, we are seeing DHS vigorously utilize that authority.

Today we held a press conference at the National Press Club here in D.C. to try to draw attention to this problem — and the fact that, as we showed, nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population live within this "Constitution-Free Zone." That’s 197.4 million people.

We calculated this using the most recent, 2007 numbers from the U.S. Census, and released a map showing the cities and states that are enveloped by this zone. It includes some of the largest metropolitan areas in the country: New York City, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. States that are completely within this Constitution-Free Zone include Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. When you say “border,” they think “all of New England.”

CBP has been setting up checkpoints far inland — on highways in states such as California, Texas and Arizona, and at ferry terminals in Washington State. Typically, the agents ask drivers and passengers about their citizenship. People are also reporting that even after they provide passports or state driver’s licenses, CBP continues to interrogate them and try to pressure them into permitting a search.

At our press conference today in the National Press Club here in DC, two U.S. citizens described their experiences with CBP.

Vince Peppard, a retired social worker, told of being stopped and harassed by the border authorities at least 15 miles from the Mexico border with his wife, Berlant.

Craig Johnson, a music professor at a San Diego college, told how he participated in a peaceful demonstration near the border to protest against the destruction of a state park so that a fence could be constructed along the U.S. border. CBP agents monitored the protest and collected the license plate information of those who participated. Since this protest, Mr. Johnson has twice crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and, each time, he has been pulled aside for additional screening. He was taken to another room, handcuffed and questioned. On his first crossing, he was also partially stripped and subjected to a body cavity search. A CBP agent also told Mr. Johnson that he was on an “armed and dangerous” list. Before the protest, Mr. Johnson crossed the U.S.-Mexico border numerous times without incident. It is difficult to believe that his subsequent harassment at the border is unrelated to his protest activity. If it is related, that would constitute a significant abuse.

Congress needs to hold hearings to investigate these egregious violations of Americans’ civil liberties, and then pass new laws protecting Americans’ rights.

I guarantee you that if these powers are not challenged, if the American people do not push back, sooner or later a factory worker in southern New Hampshire, a farmer in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, or yes, some guy driving across rural Wisconsin, will wake up to find that they have lost their right to go about their business, and travel around inside their own country, without interference from the authorities.

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Cathy Consoli

IT IS TIME FOR THE A.C.L.U TO START PUTTING THE INTERESTS OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE FIRST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
RIGHT NOW YOU ARE ENDANGERING AMERICAN CITIZENS WITH THEIR SUPPORT OF PEOPLE THAT ILLEGALLY COME HERE!!!!!!!!!!!
ILLEGALS HAVE NO RIGHT TO DEMAND ANYTHING FROM OUR GOVERNMENT!!!!!!!!!
I'm NOT RACIST I'M 1/2 HISPANIC (more Spanish than Indian) 1/2 ITALIAN!!!!
MY GRANDPARENTS ON BOTH SIDES CAME HERE LEGALLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I REQUESTED HELP FROM YOU FOR MY SON WHEN HE WAS ARRESTED IN MAY. I GOT A RESPONSE & SENT THE REQUESTED INFO & HAVE YET TO HEAR ANYTHING. IN THE MEANTIME MY SON HAS TO PAY FOR HIS PUBLIC DEFENDER, COURT COSTS, & DO COMMUNITY SERVICE FOR TRYING TO BREAK UP AN ASSAULT IN PROGRESS!!! PLUS HE WASN'T EVEN TOLD WHY HE WAS BEING ARRESTED OR READ HIS RIGHTS!!!!!!!
HOW ABOUT HELPING CITIZENS?????????????
MAYBE THE AMERICAN CITIZENS SHOULD HOLD YOU RESPONSIBLE FOR CRIMES COMMITED BY ILLEGALS AGAINST THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!
IF SOMEONE HAS NOTHING TO HIDE, WHAT'S WRONG WITH SHOWING YOUR I.D? IF YOU DON'T HAVE A DRIVERS LICENSE YOU SHOULDN'T BE DRIVING.
START WORKING FOR AMERICAN CITIZENS AGAIN & RESTORE YOUR REPUTATION!!!!!!

zzyzx

Could you please elaborate on this point from the referenced ACLU article?

"But what is “the border”? According to the government, it is a 100-mile wide strip that wraps around the “external boundary” of the United States. "

jay

You forgot to mention the semi-permenent checkpoint along I-91 in central Vermont.

USpaladin

Guys, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but we've had a political coup in this country. The same monsters who backed Hitler have now installed the office of the president as a dictatorial front in which the person may change, but the agenda stays. You won't find truth on your television, just a continual panacea of psychological manipulation and subliminal programming. (Ever wonder why they're called programs?) That's why this push for digital TV is advertised as urgent and they try to put in the "law" that digital must be used to broadcast. If you think conspiracy theories are some unthinkable thing, what's a suprise birthday party? They happen all the time, and it's inconcievable that they DON'T happen at the highest levels of world government and finance.

katma

"destruction of a state park so that offense could be constructed ..."

should read, ..."so that a fence could be constructed" ...

(took me a few minutes to figure it out!)

Incidents like these that happen to protesters is why I have given up protesting. Yes, I have given up my First Amendment right. I am too scared. Sad, isn't it.

Holy Moly

Your ALL CAPS comment is loony beyond belief. The ACLU is working for American citizens - it the border patrol wants to stop illegal immegration, then fine, but they should DO IT AT THE DAMNED BORDER, not 100 miles inland.

jeff

The ACLU is the scourge of this country and an enemy of the state. Their sole purpose is to infest this country with the scum of the planet and then demand we afford them all the rights of the constitution guaranteed only to US citizens. What a lowlife organization.

Disappointed Ca...

Well, there's the last straw. If the post-election administration doesn't IMMEDIATLEY rescind this policy, I know this particular Canadian will NEVER enter your nation again. You'll get no more tourism dollars from me, as I have no desire to visit a police state.

You people need to take back your country and re-instate your Constitution before it's too late.

Randy V. Cummings

The ACLU needs to monitor their own mail. They could do this by using a control group to send them letters. I suspect that many requests for help are being intercepted by the Fascist Bureau of Interlopers or the Department of Fatherland Security.

Mc

I tried to post my comment. It was all decent english and no name calling but it was not allowed. Either you didn't allow it or your blog is being monitored which sort of destroyes your reason for existence. Doesn't it?

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