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WASHINGTON – The extraordinary powers of customs and border agents to invade the privacy of individuals at the U.S. border are spreading inland and creating what amounts to a “Constitution-free Zone” that covers fully two-thirds of the American population, the American Civil Liberties Union said today in a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
“The authorities can do things at the border that they could never do to citizens and residents inside our country under the Constitution,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Yet the government is asserting that some of these powers extend as far as 100 miles inside the actual border. It is a classic example of law enforcement powers expanding far beyond their proper boundaries – in this case, literally.”
At the press conference, the ACLU released a map showing the 100-mile “border region” claimed by the government, and cities and states that fall within it. The map, which was created using the latest census data, shows that fully two-thirds of the U.S. population, including 9 of the nation’s top 10 largest metro areas, is within the border zone.
“Americans and Washington policymakers may believe that this is a problem confined to the dusty sands of Arizona or Texas, or the San Diego-Tijuana border, but it stretches far inland across the United States,” said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program. “If allowed to stand, sooner or later a factory worker in southern New Hampshire, a farmer in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, or Joe the plumber outside Toledo, Ohio will find themselves trapped in a Constitution-free Zone.”
Also appearing at the press conference were two individuals who spoke about their personal experience with these overextended powers: San Diego music professor Craig Johnson, and Vince Peppard, a San Diego retiree who with his wife was stopped by the authorities on a road east of San Diego, at least 15 miles from the U.S. border. Peppard and his wife proved they were U.S. citizens but still found themselves subject to demands that they allow a search, interrogated, threatened and harassed.
“Now I’m actually feeling nervous when I’m going to work. . . that I might get pulled over by Border Patrol and asked, ‘where’s your passport?’” said Peppard, who appeared at the event via videotape. “And now – do I have to carry my passport with me when I go to Home Depot or something?”
“In the United States, citizens are not supposed to need an internal passport,” said Steinhardt. “This is our country and we are free to go where we please, without being stopped and interrogated by the authorities, as long as we are not behaving illegally or in a way that is clearly suspicious.”
“Police action is not the only way to fight for freedom,” said Fredrickson. “This is a classic case where Americans need to push back against their government to preserve the core freedoms that we have always enjoyed.”
An interactive version of the “Constitution-free Zone” map, a video of Vince Peppard, and other materials are available at:
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