Immigration Law

Checkpoint Nation

Melissa del Bosque, Sept. 13, 2018 - "“ICE is terrorizing American communities right now,” Angel Padilla, policy director of the Indivisible Project, told The Nation. “They’re going into schools, entering hospitals, conducting massive raids, and separating children from parents every day.”

Increasingly, Padilla’s description applies to CBP as well. It turns out that the legal definition of “the border” is troublingly broad. Some 200 million people—nearly two thirds of all Americans—live within the “border zone,” which is defined by the Justice Department as the area up to a hundred air miles from any US land or coastal boundary. Nine of the country’s ten largest cities lie within the zone. It touches thirty-eight states and encompasses all of Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. 

Within the border zone, Congress has granted CBP powers far beyond those of other law enforcement agencies. CBP, which largely consists of customs officers at ports of entry and Border Patrol agents who monitor the highways, has the authority to set up checkpoints almost anywhere within the hundred-mile zone, and to search and detain people without a warrant as long as they feel they have “probable cause” to suspect that someone is in the country illegally or smuggling contraband. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” but CBP operates with wide discretion, often using alerts from dogs as a reason to pull people aside for secondary inspection. Within twenty-five miles of any border, Border Patrol agents have even more expansive powers; they can enter private land without a warrant or the owner’s permission.

Being a US citizen doesn’t protect you from harassment by CBP. Even if you never leave the United States, you can encounter Border Patrol at the thirty-five fixed checkpoints and dozens of temporary checkpoints they operate deep in the interior. The locations of these checkpoints are not made public, but the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, has developed a project to track them. In a recent report, Cato mapped checkpoints as far as eighty miles from the border."