DHS Checkpoint Refusals
February 27, 2013 1:15 AM   Subscribe

Here's a Youtube video of people refusing to submit to questioning and searches by the Department of Homeland Security and California's produce checkpoints.

The questionees are saying the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution allows them to refuse to cooperate. However, there are several laws that limit the power of the Fourth Amendment.

[via]
posted by deborah (122 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
"No Thanks" are two amazing words.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:33 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


The questionees are saying the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution allows them to refuse to cooperate.

This is just wing-nuttery like all the tax-dodging whackjobs.
posted by empath at 1:36 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, damn those people who think the law shouldn't be above the law. Wingnut whackjobs, every man-jack of them.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:39 AM on February 27, 2013 [24 favorites]


File this under "shit white people get away with."
posted by phaedon at 1:48 AM on February 27, 2013 [39 favorites]


I thought the video was going to end with this.
posted by dumbland at 1:49 AM on February 27, 2013


Someone needs to explain to these people that a constitution is not simply a set of guidelines for being an asshole without getting arrested.
posted by pipeski at 1:50 AM on February 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


As a foreigner, this asema reasonable to me. The immigration checkpoints are skirting very close to the edge of the letter of the law and clearly abusing the fact that people are not aware of their rights. It's only fair that people push back.

Someone needs to explain to these people that a constitution is not simply a set of guidelines for being an asshole without getting arrested.

That goes double for the border agents.
posted by Authorized User at 1:55 AM on February 27, 2013 [27 favorites]


Checkpoint USA is another site which collects news & videos about this kind of thing. The author of the blog received a $210K settlement after being illegally detained at a police roadblock several years ago. This was post-9/11.

Also, I'm really saddened to read the snarky attacks on the people in the video. I really expected a more thoughtful and intelligent response here.
posted by Potsy at 1:55 AM on February 27, 2013 [15 favorites]


Those who think that sticking up for your rights is "being an asshole" are dangerously misguided.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:55 AM on February 27, 2013 [85 favorites]


Yeah, damn those people who think the law shouldn't be above the law. Wingnut whackjobs, every man-jack of them.

Well let's look at the people in the video, shall we?

The first guy is the pastor of The Faithful World Baptist Church
The SPLC has listed the church as an anti-gay hate group,[8][9][10] noting that Pastor Anderson described gays as “sodomites” who “recruit through rape,” and “recruit through molestation”.[7] In explaining the hate group designation, the SPLC said Anderson suggests homosexuals should be killed, and in a sermon he stated “The biggest hypocrite in the world is the person who believes in the death penalty for murderers but not for homosexuals.”[7][24] A few days after the listing, Pastor Anderson stated "I do hate homosexuals and if hating homosexuals makes our church a hate group then that's what we are."[8]
Here's the youtube channel of the source for another of those videos, which is chock full of crazy.

So yes. Wingnuts.
posted by empath at 2:04 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh boy! Character assassination! Whee!

It doesn't matter if the guy is the devil himself. What he did was admirable. What exactly is the problem, do you want to live in a constitution free zone or something?
posted by Potsy at 2:12 AM on February 27, 2013 [39 favorites]


Post 9/11 fools in uniform; confusing authority for national security. I like the pleading look in their eyes; they seem to know what they are doing is useless and petty, but oh golly! The paycheck!
posted by buzzman at 2:12 AM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


As a(nother) foreigner, the bigger lesson here seems to be: When asked ambiguous questions, respond with more direct questions. Which I am all for.

I particularly liked the guy at the end, who pulled up and immediately started asking for the guard's proof of citizenship.
posted by mannequito at 2:18 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Can someone give me some context of what these checkpoints are? They're not border crossings?
posted by jadayne at 2:23 AM on February 27, 2013


First, as a resident of a continental European country, where there is basically no right to refuse an identification request from law enforcement, I have to say that this particular creeping authoritarianism isn't, practically speaking, so much of a big deal, as long as there is basic trust between the citizens and the state / law enforcement agency. That, more than any particular right to search that law enforcement asserts for itself, is the key issue, and until that's addressed, exactly who can ask what when under what circumstances is detail work. That's a policy issue (CBP's only out there because there's popular, nativist-driven support for them to be) as well as a cultural one (I'm way more nervous around American cops than Swiss cops, even when the latter are wearing full riot gear, simply because situations involving LE in the US are in my first- and second-hand experience much less predictable).

On the other hand, given that that right to security from search and seizure does still ostensibly exist in the US Constitution, and that the United States continues to hold reasonably well to the pretence that it is a nation of laws, these things do matter, and it is important to ensure that the people enforcing the law actually know what the law is. A couple of the CBP officers looked like they stepped over that line before the supervisors got involved.

It's unfortunate that so many of the people who are willing to make the fine distinction here between friendly question and illegal search are also wingnut assholes. Part of that has to do with the fact that they're more comfortable expressing their discomfort with LE as part of their politics, I suppose, part to do with the fact that they're less inclined to think their actions are futile. But let's not let the tarnish on the messenger rub off on the message.
posted by Vetinari at 2:24 AM on February 27, 2013 [24 favorites]


I find this sort of thing often to be on a strange sort of line with regards to assholery, as if you're going to get people who rightfully challenge authoritarian structures such as these checkpoints I'd imagine they'd be the sort of people who would wrongfully challenge such things if they were less informed about the rights at hand.

I am unable to self-consciously reflect exactly what my feeling of "nooo" says about me when they're doing the thing of "I thought this was America" (just stick to the plain no, come on, you can make that easier on yourself) but I'm sure it says something.
posted by solarion at 2:24 AM on February 27, 2013


My father isn't an American citizen. He lived in the US for over 40 years on a green card. Bought a house, worked a job, paid taxes, raised a family. A few years ago, he and my mother were on vacation visiting family abroad and, coming back into the US, they were detained at the border. He doesn't talk about what happened, but whatever it was so shook him up that he took his oath of citizenship a year later. At the age of 65. All my mother (an American citizen by birth) will say is that, for the first time in his life, he was made to feel like he didn't belong in the US. To which I add: probably by some low-level shit in a uniform who hasn't walked on American soil for half the length of time my father has.

My wife is also working in the US on a green card. I hate these sorts of casual violations of our constitutional rights. They represent to me a creeping antipathy by the state toward those from whose consent it derives its authority. I'd like to imagine that, were it up to me, I'd also demand that those bullies with badges make clear that their intrusion upon my rights was a naked assertion of power and not a constitutionally mandated limitation of my freedom. But there's my wife to consider. And our daughter. I'd hardly push back if it put the integrity of my family in jeopardy. Or if it could have a catastrophic effect on my wife's career. I think it's not coincidental that most of the people challenging these stops were young or middle-aged men traveling alone or with other men.

You don't have to be a wingnut to love the constitution and the elegance of its expression of our fundamental, inalienable rights. Just because assholes like to pick fights doesn't mean that every case of asserting one's rights makes one an asshole. Likewise, I don't really care what the federal courts have decided about when and where border checks and warrantless searches can take place. The Bill of Rights is fundamental. The only way that unjust laws are changed is when people refuse to submit to them and subsequently make their case in the courts.

It's in the nature of any bureaucracy to prefer the path of least resistance procedurally. But it should be the case that acts of resisting bureaucratic overreach through protest or non-compliance are recognized as expressions of civic virtue. Our tax money pays those officers. Their mandate is to protect us and our society. They derive their authority from our consent. A badge or a uniform is not a self-authorizing piece of regalia. There is no reason they shouldn't have to recognize the limits to their authority or to work a little harder to carry out their assignments.
posted by R. Schlock at 2:27 AM on February 27, 2013 [54 favorites]


The last checkpoint in the video is my fav
posted by victory_laser at 2:27 AM on February 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Judging by how they all eventually roll over for the driver even though he's being a bit of a dick, the people in uniform must have no legal power to make you do anything. So why are they allowed to be out there doing it anyway by dressing up as law enforcement officers and intimidating people? What would happen if you just casually drove by without stopping? Would they have to send a real police officer to chase you?

Oh boy! Character assassination! Whee!

It's funny you should use "assassination" when talking about a guy who wishes for the death of the president. If the guy behind the wheel is a loon, people ought to be warned that they should be wary of his motives, even if he looks like he's in the right in this instance.
posted by pracowity at 2:28 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


The last checkpoint in the video is my fav

Professionalism points for the CBP guy there. He figures out what's going on in the first five seconds, knows he doesn't have the right to escalate, knows it's a waste of time to try, keeps the line moving.

(Actually, I wonder how many challenges like that happen, and don't get put into YouTube video compilations because the guy behind the camera thinks it doesn't make the CBP look bad enough. So much CBP-baiting-by-assholes works because of the everyones-an-asshole principle...)
posted by Vetinari at 2:35 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


File this under "shit white people get away with."

File this comment under "get the people fighting among themselves to make them easier to control".
posted by DU at 2:39 AM on February 27, 2013 [24 favorites]


pracowity: Naturally I wish for a better messenger. However, it certainly does feel like bizarro-land when the right wingers are standing up for their civil rights while some of the people on Metafilter are stepping reeeeeally close to defending the creeping police-state-isms.
posted by Potsy at 2:42 AM on February 27, 2013 [36 favorites]


Good morning, fellow honorable citizen of our glorious nation. Perchance that I might inspect your personage and garments, for the purpose of detecting items of a noxious or threatening essence?

-- Hail, noble guardian of our country's portals! The pleasure I shall derive from your company is vast, and wholly commensurate with my willingness to submit myself to your official and blessed mission.

I thank you as a comrade, and additionally bestow upon you the gratitude of all electors, who (would they were gathered in our presence) view your commitment to our nation's laws as a fine and just example to all who dwell in our motherland. Permit me now to press my hands against your flesh, that I might exclude the possibility that you are, in any way, associated with peril.

-- Come, sir, I demand your just examination! There - I bear my bosom to you, that my heart may stay awhile in the presence of your Constitutional commission!

I weep, great soul, tears of appreciation for the love you bear our society. But wouldst that I might encouarge you to relax the heavy boots from your strong feet, and pass them unto this X-ray mechanism?

-- Thou sentinal of justice, thou watchman of our safety! Allow me the privilege of removing my footwear, to walk unimpeded upon the holy floor of this temple to righteous procedure!

O honest and well-loved son of our soil, whom we, as humble officials of our common cause, only hope to venerate, serve and keep safe! Hast thou a laptop in thy baggage?

-- Aye, great captain of a greater cause - aye! But here, I fling it from my open satchel, and present it unto you as every citizen should present her talents, his gifts, their determination, to the sacred community of freedom that we - in every thought and every deed - hope to advantage!

Most excellent brother, most gracious and beloved cousin, of whom any nation would feel pride exceeding to have fathered! A boon I call for, unworthy that I am: allow me now the honour, the unlooked-for pleasure, of testing your belongings for traces of explosive powders?

-- No words have I for the joy and love I feel for you and your request, thou holy Sheriff! Proceed, I beg you, but let me only cry tears of bliss as you perform your Godly role.

No words of thanks are sufficient for you, O saintly man. Go, I beg thee, to your tasks; and let every action you perform be blessed by the Hosts of Heaven, and bring you profit as befits your high station, which the Angels themselves would surely sing of in their rapture.

-- I go, my Lord, but my heart I leave with you, and now I vow to perform every task I have in your memory, and to the glory of our excellent commonwealth. Hail to our nation, and to its proud and unvanquished servants, each of whom is as worth as a Duke!

Hail, and farewell, my ever-close fellow, my brother, my self!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 2:47 AM on February 27, 2013 [68 favorites]


I love the Point of one of the People "this is not Germany" ...

Like we Germans are still controlled by the STASI or GESTAPO.
posted by homodigitalis at 2:53 AM on February 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


I've more than once gotten myself out of some rather serious trouble by asking the right questions from police, or in severe cases, judges.


But they don't teach this in high school normally. My kind of legal sleight of hand tends to only go along with platinum citizenship via money and the parents' retained lawyer.

So sad that this kind of standing up to barely passable legality searching is accepted, and commonplace these days.
posted by efalk at 2:53 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not that I have platinum membership, but that I learned the questions to ask, over time.
posted by efalk at 2:55 AM on February 27, 2013


Judging by how they all eventually roll over for the driver even though he's being a bit of a dick, the people in uniform must have no legal power to make you do anything. So why are they allowed to be out there doing it anyway by dressing up as law enforcement officers and intimidating people? What would happen if you just casually drove by without stopping? Would they have to send a real police officer to chase you?


This only works with white people. As a white man at these stops, they sometimes don't even have me stop and wave me through.

If you are not white they will not be as kind and let you drive off unless you cooperate. They will arrest you and take you to a ICE facility. They're armed -- some quite heavily. They don't need to call the police because they are federal police officers. They call in the state cops if they suspect a person is drunk.

I currently live close to the border and have travelled extensively close to the border between Texas and California. The rural stops in TX and AZ have the biggest assholes working in them. The ones near San Diego are funny in that the ones on the 5 and 15 freeways will often close when the traffic is too high so as not to cause a traffic jam. As if smugglers wouldn't know this.

I hate the idea that 30-90 miles from the border they have these stops which cause traffic problems and don't really solve any problems. But I'll just say I'm a citizen and be on my way instead of making a stand because I don't have all goddamn day to do so.

I've been through a few of these stops on a bus. Every brown person must show proof of legally being in the country or they're taken off the bus. His bags are taken from the belly of the bus. They didn't even ask me. The bus doesn't wait for the person removed. This is even though the CBP did a papers check not 30 miles away at the bus station in Laredo Texas (again, I was just allowed on the bus because I was a white guy that "didn't look" like I might be carrying drugs).
posted by birdherder at 3:04 AM on February 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


This only works with white people. As a white man at these stops, they sometimes don't even have me stop and wave me through.

Amusingly (or sadly) enough, this is also true in other countries. I was on a public bus in El Salvador and had my face buried in a guide book and didn't notice that the police/military had stopped the bus (instead of a regular bus stop). The had all the males on the bus get off and they searched them for weapons and checked their papers. I was just reading the book, and looked up as they were letting them back on the bus. One of the cops just looked at me through the window and just kind of shrugged and moved on. The local woman sitting next to me thought it was hilarious that they didn't even check me.
posted by empath at 3:21 AM on February 27, 2013


It's weird to me. I accept the agricultural checks and cooperate, because I understand them and don't take issue. Folks carry stuff and forget they have it, and that can lead to lots of other people loosing their jobs because some damn bug came in on an orange. But if they go asking about citizenship? WTF? And searching, without a probable cause? That's beyond acceptable.
posted by Goofyy at 3:27 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's more convenient and more polite to just give up your rights, sure.

This only works with white people.

You're gonna love Diop Kamau!

Big angry black man who knows his rights and is not shy about standing up for them.

Shutting down a bogus DUI test.
"My name is Diop Kamau, I have no weapons."

That's just for starters, check his youtube account for hundreds more.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:28 AM on February 27, 2013 [37 favorites]


If you are not white they will not be as kind and let you drive off unless you cooperate. They will arrest you and take you to a ICE facility.

So in the circumstances in this video, they could have pulled guns on him, forced him out of the car, and driven him away to jail without getting themselves into trouble, but they chose not to because he looked European (and presumably because he sounded like an angry radio talk show caller)?
posted by pracowity at 3:29 AM on February 27, 2013


Professionalism points for the CBP guy there. He figures out what's going on in the first five seconds, knows he doesn't have the right to escalate, knows it's a waste of time to try, keeps the line moving.

No, he doesn't get brownie points for that. A police officer who was behaving professionally would not be harassing people he has no legal right to search. It's not the officer's fault that his superiors are requiring him to act unprofessionally but the officer should feel no pride in what he's doing.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:32 AM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't think I understand. What are the powers of these immigration guys? Why are they carrying out 'immigration searches' nowhere near a border?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:39 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, what's the the universal 'Am I being detained'? Is everyone reading the same pamphlet or something? Sorry if these are stupid questions - non USian here.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:43 AM on February 27, 2013


They sure do have authoritative lookin' gold shields emblazoned on their uniforms. If I was a visitor to the US, I'd probably unwillingly submit to a cavity search if they asked for it.

I get the impression this agency was set up to stop fruit and vegetables or something from crossing state borders originally, and now they're tasked with being proto-cops enforcing immigration policy inside the national borders, by using bluster rather than legally mandated authority?
posted by panaceanot at 4:00 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Those who think that sticking up for your rights is "being an asshole" are dangerously misguided.

I dunno, I think the majority of the people in this video are standing up for their rights with a respectable amount of dignity. But there are a couple who manage to stand up for their rights and be assholes at the same time, so I guess it is possible.
posted by dogwalker at 4:02 AM on February 27, 2013


"Are you a US citizen?"
...
"Well I don't have to answer you because I have rights as an American."

*facepalm*
posted by edd at 4:02 AM on February 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


I don't think I understand.

Background. The border is currently being administratively defined as a 100km wide strip in which border patrol agents can stop people. Interesting fact: two thirds of the American population lives in that pseudo-border zone, potentially subject to unconstitutional checkpoints such as those seen in the video.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:03 AM on February 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


Also, what's the the universal 'Am I being detained'?

This is a common piece of legal advice, yeah. Although it's illegal for police to require you to stick around if you are not under arrest, to answer questions, or submit to a search without a warrant, they are not prohibited from requesting that you, as a friendly, cooperative citizen, freely and of your own free will comply with stuff that they'd really like for you to do. Sometimes police will intentionally be a little bit confusing about the situation, because taking advantage of people's lack of understanding of their rights has been quite helpful to the police in quite a lot of cases where they wanted to disrupt a protest or civil disobedience action that was of arguable legality, or get enough evidence to actually arrest someone for drugs.

You can get a charge of resisting arrest added to other charges if you try to just walk away from a police officer if you are in fact under arrest, though, so it can be important to get clarification of what the situation actually is before attempting to exert your rights. If you ask in the wrong way, police can pretend that they aren't doing anything wrong by evading your question or giving you information that might mislead you, but isn't quite misleading enough to stand up in a court case should you later sue the officer for lying to you. So apparently based on some court cases along those lines that have been successful, there's now case law that says that if you ask a police office a direct question in one or two specific formats, they have to eventually answer directly with a yes or no (after you ask the question no more than two or three times). Those specific formats are, "Am I being detained?" and "Am I free to go?"
posted by eviemath at 4:06 AM on February 27, 2013 [37 favorites]


Oh, but to add to my previous comment - I don't know that the same case law and procedures apply to border guards as to regular police. I strongly suspect not, and that the folks in the videos asking if they were being detained were a little confused. But that would probably be a good bit of information to find out - any of our legal mefites know the answer?
posted by eviemath at 4:08 AM on February 27, 2013


Also, what's the the universal 'Am I being detained'?

My casual understanding of the issue is that the officers have no right to detain someone without "probable cause" that they are breaking the law - being in the country illegally, transporting illegal things, whatever. The officers have no "probable cause" unless there is something suspicious - someone's foot sticking out of the trunk, a smell of marijuana or whatever. So what the officers do is, they give orders that they cannot enforce. "Pull over there! I need to see your papers! Tell me whether you're an American citizen!" Most people are not aware of their rights (which in fact are not always clear) so they comply with these instructions. As long as the subject is complying voluntarily then the officer's search is not illegal, and any evidence that they may find may be used in court.

Now, here's the good bit: the officers know that evidence acquired from an illegal search is useless to them. An illegal search includes one that was made when the subject was falsely detained - when sthe subject wanted to leave but was prevented from doing so. Worse, this false detention is a breach of the subject's civil rights and may lead to charges being brought against the officer! So the guy in the video asks "Am I being detained? Am I free to go?" over and over again. If the officer says no, then there must be "probable cause" - otherwise the subject is being falsely detained. The officer knows there isn't "probable cause", so eventually the subject is told that he's free to go.

Note: don't try this if you're not a US citizen; don't try this if there is anything about your vehicle or companions which might amount to "probable cause" for a search or detention; don't try this if there aren't lots of people around to keep the officer honest.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:09 AM on February 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


I get the impression this agency was set up to stop fruit and vegetables or something from crossing state borders originally, and now they're tasked with being proto-cops enforcing immigration policy inside the national borders, by using bluster rather than legally mandated authority?

As I understand it, the agricultural checkpoints when you enter California (and only entering CA, and then only on certain roads where it wouldn't delay traffic too much) are a different, state agency, unrelated to federal Customs and Border Protection, who by and large don't care about fruits and vegetables.
posted by eviemath at 4:12 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, what's the the universal 'Am I being detained'? Is everyone reading the same pamphlet or something?

This is a formal legal state of affairs. The police can only detain you if they already have reasonable, articulable suspicion that you have committed a crime or are in progress of committing a crime.

So, in 90% of these videos, the police are on a fishing expedition, and although the victim / citizen is unaware of it the interaction is "voluntary". Of course the police act like they are the authority that must be obeyed, but it is all a pretext based on your fear and compliance.

Things like this:

"Am I being detained?"
"I just need you to go over to secondary."
"No thanks."

Notice, they are NOT answering the question, because the answer is "no". Your going over to secondary is an act of voluntary cooperation, it is not a lawful order on the part of the police.

The fact that these people do not end up tased and in handcuffs is because if they are not being detained they have NO OBLIGATION to engage with the officer, aqnswer questions, etc. It is a house of cards based on scaring people into compliance and voluntarily abrogating your rights.

Be aware: if the police EVER ask to search, it means they do not have the right to search. If they had the right to, they wouldn't be asking you if it is OK.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:13 AM on February 27, 2013 [49 favorites]


So in the circumstances in this video, they could have pulled guns on him, forced him out of the car, and driven him away to jail without getting themselves into trouble, but they chose not to because he looked European (and presumably because he sounded like an angry radio talk show caller)?

Yeah, that could never possibly happen in the United States. Never. No way this has been happening in New York since 2002.

This story here is essentially one of vehicular stop and frisk. Try telling 9 out of 10 innocent New Yorkers - the vast majority of whom are Black or Hispanic - that they have a fourth amendment right that protects them from illegal searches. When it's on tape that wearing a hoodie and looking at the cops funny constitutes probably cause.

Meanwhile, white people in this video are crowing about "having a right to travel on a United States highway without being impeded or illegally detained by the police." That's a new one. The entitlement is staggering. If only because clearly it is honored, and therefore warranted.
posted by phaedon at 4:14 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, my IRL anti-authority cred is pretty strong, if I might preface this by saying so...

And that this stuff is happening in the U.S. makes me miserable. And it always makes me happy to see people standing up for their rights.

But... MeFi, in my very humble opinion, is the kind of place where there's some tendency to ignore the other half of the story. Open borders are simply not an option for the U.S.. Consequently, the human enforcement of just immigration laws is our only option. I'd rather have better enforcement at the border itself and less of this crap farther in. But it would be much harder if not impossible to do it all that way. A fence is one thing that would help, but I have a pretty good guess how that discussion would go around here. But we have to have some kind of immigration system. If we think we should be letting more people immigrate, then we should raise the legal limits.

It's easy to strike a certain pose on this issue, but it largely requires one to turn a blind eye to the actual seriousness of the problem. If you find yourself tacitly thinking that all the people in the Border Patrol are closet fascists, and that some interest in recreational authoritarianism runs from them, all the way up through that part of the U.S. government, right to the very top, and that's the explanation of why this is happening... Well, you might want to step back and ask yourself how plausible that is.

Which, let me again emphasize, does not mean that I think it's permissible for agents of the government to trick citizens into thinking that they have to submit to searches.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 4:18 AM on February 27, 2013


The entitlement is staggering.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Doesn't really get more fundamental than that.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:20 AM on February 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


Open borders are simply not an option for the U.S.

Fortunately, no one in this thread has argued that they should be.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:22 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Open borders are simply not an option for the U.S.

Why not?
posted by eviemath at 4:22 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm a fan of more lax drug regulation. I'm a fan of open borders and diversity. I'm also a fan of not being a jerk to people who're just doing their jobs in order to make a point and get praised by people on the internet. Civil disobedience is not about personal pride and glory. If you're pleased with yourself for sticking it to the Man, you are probably doing it wrong. The amount of smug present here is just plain toxic.
posted by Ex-Wastrel at 4:38 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


"My name is Diop Kamau, I have no weapons."

I watched the whole thing, and it made me happy. Thanks Meatbomb.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:38 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


It doesn't matter if the guy is the devil himself. What he did was admirable.

Not really. I might agree if this was a suspicionless DUI checkpoint or something set up near the Canadian border or otherwise away from the Mexican border area.

But there really is a border zone near the Mexican border. Not a HURF DURF NO CONSTITUTION HERE! zone or anything like that, but a real, honest to God border zone created by agreements between the US and Mexico. Mexican nationals with a border crossing card can come into this zone (whose width varies from 25-55 or more miles) to visit family or conduct business, but can't legally leave this area.

So... no. Secondary checkpoints near the Mexican border really do serve an honest, legitimate, not-jackbooted-thug purpose.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:38 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Eviemath, you need to study US history. As you know, the USA was a wretched, impoverished, hardscrabble nation that could barely make ends meet because of the boatloads of Jews, Irishmen, Chinese, Gypsies, and Ruritanians that kept arriving on its doorstep. Then the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882 and the country didn't look back. It didn't have what I would call a proper immigration law until the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, though, because until that time immigrants were thought to be properly prepared for entry to the USA if they could speak a bit of English. After that time there were quotas, tests, and heaven knows what arbitrary restrictions on entry to the USA, which is why everybody is so much better off now than when a desire to be an American was thought to be some sort of qualification for entry.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:39 AM on February 27, 2013


Joe, I was making a political point.
posted by eviemath at 4:44 AM on February 27, 2013


But I may be misreading and you were being sarcastic?
posted by eviemath at 4:45 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well I am an Assistant Secretary at the US Department of Justice, and I can tell you all that you are all missing a very important legal concept relating to the powers of police, border guards and other empowered officials in the US.

That doctrine states that an official can stop, search, detain or question any person, with the full authority of the law, as long as he or she does so ironically. E.g. the following is perfectly valid in law:

Immigration Official: "Like, I'm 'stopping' you, OK? And, like, you have to answer all these 'questions' and then I'm like going to, I dunno, like strip search you, or whatever?"

Person: "I don't understand. Am I being detained?"

Immigration Official: "Oh right, like, 'sure!' No, really I'm TOTALLY detaining you! Oh wow I'm gonna tase you or something now, yeah, watch out or whatever. No, really. No - seriously, I'm like, 'the Taser Master' or something."
posted by the quidnunc kid at 4:54 AM on February 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


How many fillums in the 80's painted the USSR as a bleak dystopian State, with an America the home and protector of the free... it's as much, if not more of a police state, under the ever-present watch of Big Brother, and a Stasi-like secret service whose transgressions are painted as normal in popular culture.
posted by a non e mouse at 4:59 AM on February 27, 2013


Man, I expected more from Mefi. Authoritarian bullying and clear cut misrepresentation of legal authority with the intention of violating constitutional rights. Not feeling the police state apologists.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:15 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Seriously the weasel worded "can I ask you to pull into the secondary area" doesn't make your blood boil? It sounds like a command but they clearly don't have any authority to enforce it. It's designed to take advantage of people not willing to stand up for their rights, I don't see how that does not read as profoundly troublesome to everyone here.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:18 AM on February 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


There was an Ask MeFi about the CA produce checkpoints a little earlier.

Also I understand from the internets that the initial "where are you coming from" question is a kind of trap -- so if you admit you're coming from a place that has like, fruits and vegetables, they can then establish probable cause that you're carrying some, instead of just asking you directly.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:25 AM on February 27, 2013


@edd, you are aware that one can be an American protected by the constitution and not a US citizen? (And the American part isn't actually necessary either.)
posted by Candleman at 5:40 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


File this under "shit white people get away with."
posted by phaedon at 3:48 AM


Probably. But it has to start with something. Somewhere.

What if no white people rode buses into the deep dark south of their nation to stand up for civil rights? Of course MLK didn't need the help of those white college kids, but it did help to get the nations attention.
posted by Sailormom at 5:49 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


So... no. Secondary checkpoints near the Mexican border really do serve an honest, legitimate, not-jackbooted-thug purpose.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe

Peak eponysteria.


I think there would need to be a science fiction reference in there somewhere for ROU_Xenophobe to achieve full eponysteria.
posted by biffa at 5:49 AM on February 27, 2013


This stuff is great. If I had money out the wazoo, I'd lawyer up and take a few weeks off from my life of leisure every year to go mess with these types of setups.

And extra special bonus points to Diop Kamau for his heroic actions. There's a really good Streve Kroft piece up there on youtube that tells a lot of his story.

Here's the link for those interested.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 6:09 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


(1) Open borders are simply not an option for the U.S.

Fortunately, no one in this thread has argued that they should be.

(2) Open borders are simply not an option for the U.S.

Why not?

See, this is one way discussions can fall into confusion. I'm basically a liberal, but when I hear some people discussing this stuff, much of what they say seems to only make a lot of sense if they are advocating open borders. When called on this, they tend to respond in one of the two ways above, i.e. either by denying that that's what they think, or by indicating that you are a little loony for not advocating open borders. Of course different people can believe different things, but I think that liberalism, viewed collectively, has incoherent presuppositons about this issue.

My own view is that anyone who thinks that open borders are an option for the U.S. probably isn't informed enough about the issue to meaningfully participate in the discussion. The question, then, is: how to do we humanely and legally enforce just immigration laws?

I do not advocate checkpoints at which police trick and intimidate people into submitting to what are, in essence, illegal searches. But I expect if they knew of a better alternative, they'd be using it. So I'm apprehensive about what will happen when we--as we should, and I expect we will--force them to cut this shit out.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:13 AM on February 27, 2013


What if no white people rode buses into the deep dark south of their nation to stand up for civil rights? Of course MLK didn't need the help of those white college kids, but it did help to get the nations attention.

Oh, I wasn't aware that these guys were going to checkpoints and helping Latinos by informing then of their rights and helping them answer police inquiries.
posted by empath at 6:13 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


If this post was an AskMe, and one party kept refusing to answer direct questions and playing verbal sleight of hand with "Can I ask you to move to the secondary area?" It would be DTMFA-city. Shame that citizens need a safe word to exercise their rights.
posted by reverend cuttle at 6:13 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


You can't just say we can't have open borders, attack someone who says why not and then give that kind of terrible rhetorical response. You don't know enough if you don't agree with my statement from first principles? That's like not even close to a good faith discussion.

Btw I'm in favor of border security with an incredible easy path to legal residence and eventually citizenship. Something like pass a simple background check and in. Don't forget that nearly all of the attacks committed in the US by foreign nationals were committed by people here legally. Show you aren't a threat, welcome to America.
posted by JPD at 6:34 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Idea for heavy-handed art project: Place a flag-emblazoned kiosk alongside a public road. Put on a uniform. When motorists stop, ask them to "pull into secondary" and then repeatedly ask "What are your rights?" until they admit that they don't know them. Thank them for cooperating.
posted by compartment at 6:39 AM on February 27, 2013 [19 favorites]


Assuming that all the people making these videos are white is almost certainly mistaken.

I can't back it up with a link because it was a long time ago, but I have watched these "checkpoint refusals" starring non-white folks on the resisting side. And wasn't the LAPD-refuses-to-let-me-make-a-police-report video made by a black dude?

I'm not trying to say that there isn't an enormous racial component to these stops, I'm not trying to say that white privilege doesn't exist, and I'm quite aware of the racial aspect of, say, NYPD stop-and-frisks and so on. I'd even agree that the white men seem to be having an easier time executing these refusals than non-whites and women. But saying "these guys are only able to do this because they're white" when there are non-white people doing it is erasure. Assuming "default" whiteness is not so good.
posted by daveliepmann at 6:39 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


In my country of Wonkistan, our border security is all handled my Oompa Loompas. So everytime you go through a immigration checkpoint they sing a song ...

DREAM SEQUENCE FADE OUT

INT: AIRPORT IMMIGRATION ZONE, STAFFED BY OOMPA LOOMPAS.

Oompa Loompa, doompa dee doo
I have a number of questions for you:
Oompa Loompa, doompa dee dee
If you would enter our fine count-ry.

Are you importing illegal drugs,
Porno, or fruit that is covered in bugs?
Tell us if you want to foment a coup -
If you've done some war crimes, admit - that - too!

(WE DON'T LIKE THE LOOK OF YOU!)

Ooompa Loompa, doompa dee doo
Please fill in customs form C Thirty-Two
Oompa Loompa, doompa dee dum
Now we would like to search up your bum!


Aaaaaaand, scene.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 6:43 AM on February 27, 2013 [26 favorites]


So... no. Secondary checkpoints near the Mexican border really do serve an honest, legitimate, not-jackbooted-thug purpose.

The checkpoints primary function is to check for undocumented people, drugs and other contraband. Checking for laser visa holders too far north is way down the list. Laser visa holders know if theyre too far north they'll lose the card and and will have a hard time ever legally I migrating.
posted by birdherder at 6:50 AM on February 27, 2013


If I am understanding this correctly, these aren't actual border crossing checkpoints, but rather some kind of "administrative" checkpoint miles away from the actual border, inside the U.S. If these were actual border crossings, there isn't any possibility that someone could go through by saying "no thank you." There's piles of law saying that 4th amendment protections don't apply/are weaker at the border.
posted by Mid at 6:58 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: The pleasure I shall derive from your company is vast, and wholly commensurate with my willingness to submit myself to your official and blessed mission.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:07 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Diop Kamau stuff was too good to leave here in comments, so I posted it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:12 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


The question, then, is: how to do we humanely and legally enforce just immigration laws?

This is a great question, but has basically no real-world application to anything that is currently happening in the United States, anything that has happened in the past (let's say) 100 years, or anything that is likely to happen in the foreseeable future.

Immigration laws are wildly arbitrary, unfair, and ineffectively administered, which might be why they are also systematically unenforced. The fact that this primarily causes problems for the undocumented immigrants themselves, rather than American citizens (like me) who take advantage of their labor, suggests that you have little to be apprehensive about if stop and search near the border somehow becomes even less effective at preventing immigration.
posted by jhc at 7:12 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mid, the checkpoints are 30+ miles from the border. The farthest north I know of is near San Onofre on I5 between San Diego and Los Angeles. That one is unique in that it is open only in non peak times so there isn't a traffic jam.

Most are permanent structures but I've seen temporary ones in Texas and Arizona along the 10 and 8 freeways in the middle of the desert.

They have plate reading cameras in both directions that photograph your car. They have a sign about 2 miles ahead of the stop and they have agents in trucks that look for people that try and turn around.
posted by birdherder at 7:12 AM on February 27, 2013


Quidnunc Kid, you are making my morning today.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:15 AM on February 27, 2013


Do these exist up near the Canadian border, too? Are they specifically an artifact of some US/Mexican agreement, or a broader US border control effort?

I was in Niagara Falls last summer and the border crossing structure itself looked pretty...brutalist, but I never saw anything like this.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:16 AM on February 27, 2013


California's produce checkpoints.

California's produce checkpoints are designed to prevent bug infestations in California's crucial agricultural industry. All I have ever been asked at a produce checkpoint is, "Are you bringing in any fruits or vegetables today?" to which I answer "No." During times of budget cuts, those checkpoints are often unmanned.

TL;DR - if you're hassling the low-level peon staffing a produce checkpoint, you're an asshole.
posted by muddgirl at 7:18 AM on February 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Wait, sometimes they ask me, "How are you doing today, ma'am?" How have I missed that this is a gross invasion of my privacy????
posted by muddgirl at 7:35 AM on February 27, 2013


The border is currently being administratively defined as a 100km wide strip

That's miles, comrade.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 7:44 AM on February 27, 2013


The way around this annoyance is to simply get some drug dogs to alert, according to the latest fun.

Simply put a drug dog at the checkpoint. Have the dog alert whenever you like. Fourth Amendment ... bypassed!

YOUR MOVE, HIPPIES!
posted by adipocere at 7:49 AM on February 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Man, a girl I went to grad school with married a guy who quickly signed up for US border patrol and I've had to act like it's cool and a wonderful career but it sure is hard. Sure, the people in the video are just doing their job, but it's a loathsome job that infringes on our rights.

California's produce checkpoints are designed to prevent bug infestations in California's crucial agricultural industry. All I have ever been asked at a produce checkpoint is, "Are you bringing in any fruits or vegetables today?" to which I answer "No." During times of budget cuts, those checkpoints are often unmanned.

In the video, the people with the motor home say no and are promptly told they have to be searched because there must be a refrigerator and they might be lying. That's a load of bullshit--to be assumed as liars and searched because of the type of vehicle you drive.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:52 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


@edd, you are aware that one can be an American protected by the constitution and not a US citizen? (And the American part isn't actually necessary either.)
Naturally, but I didn't want that to stop me from taking a cheap shot based on one common interpretation of 'American' just for giggles.
posted by edd at 7:54 AM on February 27, 2013


Muddgirl, I'm a friendly guy, but "Hey, how's it going...where you headed today?" is a different question when asked by a stranger than by my best friend. Somewhat more so when that stranger is packing heat, is part of a group that occasionally kills innocent people because of a misunderstanding, and who will be rewarded if he or she can find a reason to levy a fine on me or put me in a cage. You know--power dynamics?
posted by daveliepmann at 7:57 AM on February 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


You know--power dynamics?

Yeah, exactly. As a kid, I remember taking civics and learning about the constitution and unlawful search and seizure and thinking, "Man, if that ever happened I'd just say no." But the reality is so much more complex than that, all based on power dynamics and weaselly phrasing tailored to make you give up your rights. Makes you wonder what kind of bullshit the founding fathers faced.

Probably the same kind of bullshit.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:03 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh--and I forgot: if the stranger and I disagree on what happened, it's almost certain that people will believe the stranger. People who have authority over me, at least.
posted by daveliepmann at 8:11 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Watching those videos, it's hard for me to get a sense of whether the people making them are genuinely annoyed by the fact that people's rights are being infringed upon and are doing this as a form of protest, or whether they are only annoyed that their rights are being infringed upon and would be perfectly fine if the border patrol stopped those Hispanic dudes in the car behind them. Possibly it's a mix of both.

It's kind of weird, because there's not usually much overlap between militia joining whackadoos and people who engage in freedom riding, but this feels like an area where technique would overlap, even if the actual goals are a zillion miles apart.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:15 AM on February 27, 2013


In the video, the people with the motor home say no and are promptly told they have to be searched because there must be a refrigerator and they might be lying. That's a load of bullshit--to be assumed as liars and searched because of the type of vehicle you drive.

I don't necessarily have a problem with this, either. Travelling across states by motor home does seem like it gives a reasonable expectation that someone has fresh fruits and veggies that you purchased in one state and are bringing to another. It seems to me that the proper body to judge whether this is a violation of the 4th amendment is the California or Federal courts.

Muddgirl, I'm a friendly guy, but "Hey, how's it going...where you headed today?" is a different question when asked by a stranger than by my best friend.

Not just a stranger, an officer of the State of California or an officer of the Federal Government. Officers that we, the citizens, imbue with the power to enforce our laws. If we disagree with those laws, I don't think "giving the officer a hard time for doing his or her job" is either ethical or productive.
posted by muddgirl at 8:19 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


(I guess I should clarify that I don't think refusing to answer a question is giving an officer a hard time. But asking an officer for proof of his citizenship definitely starts to cross an asshole barrier for me.)
posted by muddgirl at 8:21 AM on February 27, 2013


Muddgirl, the point (as I understand it) is that the law says that these officers can ask all they want, but not in fact detain people for refusing to answer. That's why "no thanks" (plus video) is met with a frustrated restatement of the question instead of "get out of the car, here are my handcuffs, sit on the curb while I search your vehicle".

On preview, I'm confused. You don't like that someone is playfully refusing to answer, as opposed to obstinately repeating "am I free to go?"? That's the part of this that raises your hackles? Not the part where these officers pressure people into abdicating their rights? I think you have ethics miscalibration.
posted by daveliepmann at 8:24 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't necessarily have a problem with this, either. Travelling across states by motor home does seem like it gives a reasonable expectation that someone has fresh fruits and veggies that you purchased in one state and are bringing to another.

There are instances when doing something legal is probable cause for an officer to believe that you're doing something illegal?
posted by compartment at 8:24 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's always wingnuts and weirdos who stand up for basic rights. The question I ask isn't "Are they obnoxious," but "are they right?"

It takes a certain obnoxiousness to be unwilling to back down, but these weirdos and lunatics have provided us with case after case in the U.S. courts that preserves the basic protections we enjoy as citizens of this country. I mean, I don't know that Larry Flynt is the man I want going toe to toe with the Supreme Court over pornography, but he's the one who established some very important parameters regarding public figures and parody, so there you go.

These folks are right. Being cross-examined by immigration is voluntary on the part of the citizen, unless they have probable cause. Being searched is voluntary sans probable cause. Giving your ID is voluntary sans probable cause. We should know we have the right to refuse, or one of our essential rights is lost.

And I know these folks are benefiting from privilege. This is not a privilege I think white people should lose. It's one I think should be extended to everybody.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:26 AM on February 27, 2013 [23 favorites]


Travelling across states by motor home does seem like it gives a reasonable expectation that someone has fresh fruits and veggies that you purchased in one state and are bringing to another. It seems to me that the proper body to judge whether this is a violation of the 4th amendment is the California or Federal courts.


The officers know full well that they don't have the authority to search the motor home just on the basis of it being a motor home and that doing so would violate the 4th Amendment. What other reason would they possibly have to let the drivers go unsearched after they'd been given "a hard time" like this? Basically their bluff got called, the proof that they were bluffing is the fact that they folded.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:28 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Watching those videos, it's hard for me to get a sense of whether the people making them are genuinely annoyed by the fact that people's rights are being infringed upon and are doing this as a form of protest, or whether they are only annoyed that their rights are being infringed upon and would be perfectly fine if the border patrol stopped those Hispanic dudes in the car behind them. Possibly it's a mix of both.

The guy at 7:20 looks like he could be Hispanic (and the guy filming sounds like he could have an accent, but it's hard to tell).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:30 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you think these people were assholes or whatever watch this.
posted by shnarg at 9:07 AM on February 27, 2013


I've been through a few of these stops on a bus. Every brown person must show proof of legally being in the country or they're taken off the bus. His bags are taken from the belly of the bus. They didn't even ask me.

I used to drive through the internal checkpoints in socal on a fairly regular basis.
They were never open any of the times I went through, but I often wondered how it would go if I were ever stopped.
I am an immigrant and currently haven't any idea where my documents are, but on the other hand, I'm white and sound pretty American.

I'd like to I'd have made a huge fuss about jack-booted thugs and the KGB, but honestly, I'm not really sure I'd like living in my home country again...
posted by madajb at 9:10 AM on February 27, 2013


Or read this.
posted by shnarg at 9:12 AM on February 27, 2013


[Link fixed. Please do not (a) post bare urls into comments or (b) use url shorteners on mefi.]
posted by cortex at 9:32 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Url Shortener's my name - but most people call me Url. I been on MeFi sixty, seventy years now, and lemma tell ya, son - it ain't easy. Each time I mosey on over to a thread for-to say my piece, ol' Sheriff Cortex is there, ready to chase me outta town. "Url," says he, "we don't want your kind around these here parts, ya hear me?" "Goddamit, Sheriff," says I, "used to be a time when MeFi was proud to have me in the saloon, and I ain't caused no trouble yet." "Git along now, Url," says that mean-eyed lawman, "or I'll-a fill you full of lead, I swear to God". I wouldn't mind so much but he says it in square brackets and in small text and that just sours my sarsaparilla, if-a you get me - like he's got his own goddamn form of parentheses or somethin', and no-one else can use 'em. But one day I'm-a come in to this one-horse website with curly brackets - you know, the real fancy kind, like they use in Europe - and then we'll see who the hell can make a parenthetical aside in a different-sized text. You'll all see. By the way, if you could read this comment in the grizzled, 'ornery voice of a wild-west stereotype I'd be much obliged. I shoulda said that first, I guess. Consarn it.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 9:53 AM on February 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


Those who think that sticking up for your rights is "being an asshole" are dangerously misguided.

If you have such a problem with being questioned about such invasive questions such as, "Are you a U.S. citizen?" then why don't you take it up with more relevant authorities?

Yes, I call these people assholes. Same reason you're an asshole for walking around with a gun on your back even if open-carry is legal. These people are just doing their job.

And please don't give me the ol' slippery slope. If Obamacare isn't a slope to Soviet-Style Communism, then immigration checkpoints aren't a slope to German/Soviet-style police-state.
posted by SollosQ at 11:15 AM on February 27, 2013


If you have such a problem with being questioned about such invasive questions such as, "Are you a U.S. citizen?" then why don't you take it up with more relevant authorities?

I wonder if you would mind being more specific about what authorities you mean, what taking it up with will entail, and how that will result in the people in the field being clearer that these stops are voluntary on the part of US citizen?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:21 AM on February 27, 2013


I wonder if you would mind being more specific about what authorities you mean

Policy makers within the Department of Homeland Security, our Congress, and other relevant parties.

what taking it up with will entail

I don't know? Depends on how much oversight Congress has on the individual policies to the Department of Homeland Security. Either way, pressure to Congress or DHS to chance their policies. I don't know why you're asking me. I don't have any experience with interest group/non-profit lobbying.

how that will result in the people in the field being clearer that these stops are voluntary on the part of US citizen?

Policy makers would make it enforceable that the check-pointers have to declare that they are not being detained and free to go whenever they wish.
posted by SollosQ at 11:28 AM on February 27, 2013


Perhaps it's not so obvious if you've been living near the US-Mexico border for a while.

I grew up nearer the US-Canada border. This has historically been a very open border. Every so often you'd get a pissy border guard at an official crossing, but there are just so many miles of unpatrolled border, and lots of cultural and family connections across the border that most border guards were pretty chill. My parents have a horror story or two from the 1970s,but my pre-9/11 experiences crossing the US-Canada border were more like my experiences crossing country borders in the European Union in recent years: someone looked at my identity document to make sure that I had one, and they politely asked if I was bringing any contraband across the border.

There was a notable change post-9/11, but you'd have to have been a certain category of person (non-white and/or poor) to notice anything more than longer lines and passports now being required. Bus passengers get treated more poorly by border guards, for example, but that's probably not a big change from the past. The US-Canada border is relaxed enough that having my bus stopped and boarded by CBP agents fairly far from the border, having them walk down the aisle asking everyone if they were a US citizen, having them request documents for and spend more time on all the brown people on the bus, and having them pull one guy off for more questioning, although all carried out politely and quietly (as I've described in a previous comment), was quite shocking.

This past summer I took a road trip around the continent, and decided to go to Mexico, 'cause I'd never been to Mexico, and that's the sort of thing one does on a big road trip. I drove across the border at Mexicali in my private vehicle, drove around for 15 or 20 minutes, then went to get in line to get back into the US. The Mexican border guard didn't even look at my passport or any identity documents. He ascertained that I was visiting as a tourist, and asked if I was bringing any weapons into the country. When I said no, he let me continue on. It took about two minutes.

When I went to re-enter the US, I accidentally got in the wrong line. I thought I was in the local traffic line rather than the line of people coming in from the highway, and didn't realize until my front tires were juuust pass the concrete barriers and another car was too close behind me for backing up that I was actually in the special line for people who had paid extra for the special border crossing identity card. A big sign warned that people in this line without authorization would be turned back into Mexico. I figured it would take me about half an hour to make my way up to the guard, where I would be turned back and would have to somehow find the end of the multi-mile-long line that I was supposed to be in. Not so.

I eventually pulled up to the border guard, presented my US passport, and explained my mistake, apologizing politely. The guard was very confused and suspicious. He wanted to know where I was from. He looked at my vehicle's license plates. "Nova Scotia, is that state up north somewhere?" I explained that no, Nova Scotia was a province in Canada, that I lived in Canada. "So you're Canadian?" (while holding my US passport). "No, I just live in Canada." "Why do you live in Canada if you're an American?" After about five minutes we sorted out the situation, that I was a US Citizen living and working abroad. Then I had to clear up his confusion about why I was in the special line despite not being a special person. That took another five minutes (despite my already having explained the situation initially). You could see the moment when he finally was able to fit me into one of his pre-conceived boxes, and decided that I was probably not a suspicious person, but was merely a clueless woman from far away who got all confused. And blonde to boot. The sexist condescension oozing off of him was palpable, but given that the alternative seemed to be getting pegged as some sort of nefarious character, I politely kept my mouth shut.

At this point, rather than being turned back into Mexico to somehow find my way to the proper line, I was directed to pull into the secondary inspection area. The original border guard had written something on a form which he stuck inside my passport and put under my windshield wiper for the next guard to deal with me. I sat in my vehicle in the spot I had been directed to for five or ten minutes, until a second border guard came by and asked what the situation was. I explained my mistake while he looked at the form from the first border guard. He said he had to go inside but would be back out in a few minutes, and to sit tight. He replaced my passport and the form under my wiper on my front windshield, and I continued sitting.

Another five or ten minutes later, my original guard had come off duty and came across with a supervisor. The supervisor asked what my situation was and if I was being attended to. I gave my brief explanation, augmented by the first border guard's condescending interpretation, and I explained that the second guy had told me to wait and had gone inside. The supervisor told me to continue waiting. I did.

Another five or ten minutes later, a third border guard came by and asked if they had finished with me. Given that I cross in and out of the US fairly regularly, I replied honestly in the negative, and briefly explained my status. He went off, then came right back and had me back up and pull into a different parking spot in the secondary screening area, then got to work of doing my actual secondary screening. This involved a search of my vehicle. They (guard #3 and a fourth associate) had me open the hood, the back, the doors, told me they were going to search the wheel-wells and other parts of the vehicle exterior, and politely asked if they could search inside the vehicle. Not wanting to complicate my situation, I consented. They directed me to go sit in a waiting area while they did their search.

The waiting area was basically an open-air cage. At the California-Mexico border, the weather's decent year-round, so there was just a large roof over this whole secondary screening area providing shade and protection from precipitation, a building down at one end, and a little guard booth next to each of the screening spots. The cage was at the far end from the building. I entered through a corridor that had two or three switchbacks, like those crowd management lines at amusement parks, except bordered by seven or eight foot tall chain link fence instead of a little rope. Inside the waiting area, a room-sized area surrounded by the same chain link fence, there were a couple locker room style benches, a big fan, and a giant flat screen tv. The giant flat screen tv was tuned to the US Department of Homeland Security Propaganda Reel. I could sort of see my vehicle still as it was being searched.

Eventually they finished the search, and whatever paperwork they had to complete, and one of the guards that had been searching my vehicle came to get me. They hadn't searched my stuff too thoroughly (that would have involved pulling out all my stuff that I had for my road trip), and I guess there may have been some restriction on how much they were allowed to poke into closed stuff, since they asked me a couple questions about what was in some of the containers I had. Unlike when I had driven into California and stopped at the agricultural checkpoint, they were pretty much completely uninterested in the contents of my cooler. Unlike at the US-Canada border, they were completely uninterested in the bottle of alcohol that I had bought in California, nor the receipt for it's purchase that I had out to show them.

They also asked me lots of questions. I had to go through my story again. About five times. It was pretty classic actually, they asked me slight variants of the same questions, about five times each, to make sure that my story was consistent but not too rote. Except for one question that they asked ten times (by the time I was finally released), which was where I was headed after I re-entered the US. They wanted to be absolutely clear on the fact that I was going "east, toward Albequerque, not west toward San Diego?" Absolutely clear. I got the distinct impression that I would have been significantly more suspicious had I been headed to San Diego.

After the vehicle search and questions, I was instructed to wait in my vehicle while they did some paperwork. Off they went. Yet another border guard came by and asked if I had been cleared to leave. Again, I answered truthfully in the negative. As far as I can tell, this portion of the search was primarily them making me wait around long enough that I wouldn't have ended up deriving any benefit from mistakenly having gotten in the short line for special people without having paid to be a special person myself.

Eventually my searchers came back, replaced the form inside my passport on my front windshield with a different one, and directed me toward the exit. There was one more stop before leaving the secondary screening area. I got asked if I was cleared to go again, got asked about my destination not being San Diego the final two times, and made sure that the last exit guard had collected whatever paperwork was required, got my passport back from my windshield, and finally drove off into California (heading northwest, no less).

Here's what I noticed about the whole experience, however.

(1) US border crossing regulations and procedures are racist and classist. At least I didn't encounter institutional sexism, just the run of the mill individual sort. But it definitely helped that I was white - the working narrative about me that the border guards decided upon would have clearly been different under different circumstances (actually, being a young female probably didn't hurt that, so there's your institutional sexism). The fact that I had not paid to be an extra special person made my life harder, but from what I could see going on all around me during the ample time I was sitting around waiting, I definitely got better treatment for being rich enough to have my own personal vehicle and to be a tourist on a road trip. The suspicion of all things non-American was an obstacle that I encountered though, even with just my Canadian residency.

(2) The border security procedures are not actually all that well organized or efficient. I think the disorganization I saw was a result of big bureaucracy. The lack of efficiency seemed more to be an intentional feature. More on this below.

(3) The US spends a lot of money on "border security" along the US-Mexico border. A lot of money. Serious, serious money is being spent on all that border security apparatus. Someone or someones are making a shitload of money off of the fact that the US-Mexican border is highly militarized. And highly militarized is the accurate description. When that much money is being spent, especially given all the other needs for US federal funding around the country, an important and appropriate question to ask is, who is benefiting from this expenditure?

(4) The US-Mexico border is not just well-staffed and bureaucratic, but in fact highly militarized. More so than any other border I've been through in now ten countries (albeit mostly in North America and Europe, with one excursion to Hong Kong). As a point of comparison, I've visited Berlin post-reunification, and done the walking tour of the remains of the Berlin Wall, watched the video in the remaining guard tower that was staffed on a volunteer basis by the brother of the first guy to get shot trying to cross from East Berlin to West Berlin, and ended up with a thorough wander through the Mauer Museum. While at the US-Mexico border the US border guards would far prefer to use intimidation and bureaucracy to keep people on the side they think they're supposed to be on rather than shooting people in the back, it is no less militarized.

(5) My experience at the border certainly made me nervous about taking the southern highway through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas as I had originally planned. Given my experience at the border itself, I didn't want to run into the permanent or temporary checkpoints that aren't even at the border, even though I had just made an honest mistake and had been let back into the country without any warnings or consequences for that mistake (except for having to deal with the guards' officiousness and condescension). Instead I ended up cutting up to I-40. Instilling this sort of discomfort or fear of going to far south in US citizens seems to be an intentional feature of the US-Mexico border security regime. Based on what was showing on the big screen tv in the cage at the border crossing itself, intimidating Mexicans from thinking about getting too close to the US is definitely an intentional feature of the US border security regime at the Mexican border. People have at least as strong the cultural and familial connections across the US-Mexico border as across the US-Canada border, going at least as far back in time. Yet there is what certainly appears to be a deliberate goal of keeping the two populations as separate as possible, both physically and politically. As above, a key question to ask is, who benefits from this?

Between this deliberate separation of populations, the strong militarization of the US-Mexico border, and the lack of efficient enforcement just causing minor hassles for people at the border, you might think the two countries were at war, not close allies with major economic ties. So one really has to ask who benefits from the restriction of travel for individuals and from the extremely large amounts of money spent on maintaining such a militarized border given the strong financial and economic ties between the two countries.


On a further note for non-USians confused about this whole situation:

When I moved to Canada, a Canadian friend explained some of the key political differences between the US and Canada. Since Canada is still part of the Commonwealth, technically the Queen of England has veto power over anything that the Canadian parliament decides. But as my friend explained it, effectively the Queen has one veto, because if she ever used it, Canadians would get pretty upset and maybe cease being satisfied with the head of state of a foreign country having a say in their country's political decisions. In Canada, and from what I've seen in many parts of Europe as well, a lot more happens by convention. So European countries have national ID cards, you can technically be required to produce your documentation at any time outside of some radius of your home for no reason, there are weaker statutory privacy protections against searches and seizures, etc. But the culture is such that, by convention, these police powers don't get abused too much. Another example: the Canadian legal system relies a lot more on English common law than the US legal system. The US has some important cultural differences that involve a greater reliance on the letter of the law, and have the consequence that a national identity card, greater powers of search and seizure, and similar are, I think, much more likely to be abused or used to the full extent possible by law enforcement in the US, rather than used sparingly in keeping with social conventions. So when folks from the US get all het up about eroding legal status of privacy protections, it's in this different cultural context where diminishing statutory privacy protections have a very real difference in effect than they would in some other countries.
posted by eviemath at 11:33 AM on February 27, 2013 [25 favorites]


What's hilarious is that these folks wouldn't be considered "assholes" if the cops did their job correctly:

- I want you to pull to secondary.
- No thanks.
- OK, move along.

or

- Am I free to go?
- Yes, you are.
- Thank you.

That is, the assholery comes from the fact that the police stonewall instead of answering direct questions that would reveal that they have no right to continue the stop, and call their supervisors instead of letting people leave when they should be free to leave.

Asserting your rights in a straightforward, direct way is not being an asshole. I didn't notice anybody belittling, insulting, or cursing at these officers. I saw people calmly and reasonably assert their rights. If the cops had the right to a search, then they wouldn't be asking to search. Continuing to detain these people is not how it's supposed to work.
posted by daveliepmann at 11:36 AM on February 27, 2013 [15 favorites]


Honest question: what is the legal difference between the interstitial zone at a land border crossing and an airport?

It strikes me that x-raying one's bags, searching them, frisking and scanning one's person, etc. occupy the same degree of 4th amendment evasiveness the various CBP, et al. display.

So what makes an airport different? Is there a set of questions one can ask at an airport that are similar to a land border checkpoint that have the same efficaciousness?
posted by digitalprimate at 11:41 AM on February 27, 2013


That is, the assholery comes from the fact that the police stonewall instead of answering direct questions that would reveal that they have no right to continue the stop, and call their supervisors instead of letting people leave when they should be free to leave.

Why do you think they do that? Because all of these cops are assholes power-tripping? Or maybe there's something institutional going on, training these officers on how to act.
posted by SollosQ at 11:49 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't dispute at all that institutional factors are at play here. I didn't call the officers assholes, and I don't think they're necessarily power-tripping. (Some seem to be, to me.) By noting the power dynamic I did not mean to imply malice at an individual level.

But your method of changing this seems a little odd: "subjugate yourself to the officers' illegal demands instead of engaging in direct action that poses only moderate risk to yourself, no risk to the officer, and infinitesimally delays the people behind you!" I mean, you say your policy solution is "the check-pointers [would] have to declare that they are not being detained and free to go whenever they wish." That's my understanding of the law as it stands. A properly functioning police force would have an appeals process where these officers were disciplined. As I understand it, that's not how things work. So...?

The law says what it should, and officers on the ground aren't following it. These videos are an incredibly effective way to spread the word that A) this happens and B) it's not legal and C) it should be changed. What's your objection?
posted by daveliepmann at 12:03 PM on February 27, 2013


I spend a lot of time on US military installations, and one of the games I like to play to amuse myself is "make them give me an unambiguous order."

There's no question about it, they DO have the right to search the crap out of my person and car if they want in the places I'm going, and I'm willing to let them. The funny thing is, they still play that "can I ask you to..." game which kind of drives me nuts, so I play stupid.

My two favorite phrases are "I'd rather not," "Is it optional?" and "is that a question?" Surprisingly often, even in these cases, "I'd rather not" works better than I expect.

Yes, I'm white and also "look important," so that helps.
posted by ctmf at 12:25 PM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I love the "look important" card. I learned to play that in my 20s, in NYC. Blew my mind. I wasn't from a place where I was used to the exercise of white privilege, being young and white was a reason to get hassled, in my day. (really, the 70s sucked!)
posted by Goofyy at 12:34 PM on February 27, 2013


The Department Of Homeland Security Stole My Boat Today
posted by homunculus at 4:20 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're gonna love Diop Kamau! [...] That's just for starters, check his youtube account for hundreds more.

Did I imagine reading about this, or haven't there been efforts recently (successful, I seem to recall) to criminalize recording police activity in some places in the US (presumably to discourage people like Mr Kamau who know their rights and are willing to stand up for them)?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:24 PM on February 27, 2013


Do these exist up near the Canadian border, too?

As eviemath explains, if you're traveling on a bus between Toronto and New York, you have a decent chance (10%, maybe?) of being awakened in Rochester by the Border Patrol asking whether you're a U.S. citizen. If you are, you don't actually have to show proof of this, because you aren't required to have any ID on your person. This is as far as it goes with me, but I have been on buses that people have been removed from.

Since Canada is still part of the Commonwealth, technically the Queen of England has veto power over anything that the Canadian parliament decides.

Actually, the Queen of Canada can refuse to give royal assent to any act of Parliament, but the Queen of the United Kingdom plays no role anymore, and the Parliament of the United Kingdom has had no power over Canadian law since 1982 (the Canadian Crown having been separated in 1931). They are separate offices, which is why all of the Commonwealth realms have to pass the same laws, at more or less the same time, to ensure that if the Duchess of Cambridge has a daughter in the coming months, that daughter can become queen without being skipped in favor of a younger brother.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:47 PM on February 27, 2013


A few years ago -- 2002 0r 2003, I think -- I ran into a checkpoint while driving in Vermont. It was just cars (Homeland Security?) blocking the road, letting people through one car at a time after questioning us. At first I'd thought they were looking for bank robbers on the lam or something, but no, they were looking for... uh... well, I don't know. Not me, I guess.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:51 PM on February 27, 2013


In other news: Ragtime: Code name of NSA’s Secret Domestic Intelligence Program Revealed in New Book
posted by homunculus at 8:57 PM on February 27, 2013


Did I imagine reading about this, or haven't there been efforts recently (successful, I seem to recall) to criminalize recording police activity in some places in the US (presumably to discourage people like Mr Kamau who know their rights and are willing to stand up for them)?

You might be thinking about this thread about a motorcyclist arrested in Maryland for filming his traffic stop and posting it to youtube. A judge ruled that his taping of the traffic stop was legal.

Also in Maryland, at nearly the same time, there was a video of some heavy-handed policing that starts with one cop upset that the crowd is filming the incident and ends with another cop threatening the person filming. That lead to a Baltimore Police general order prohibiting the Baltimore police from stopping any filming or photography of police activity in public, the Maryland attorney general advising that Marylanders have the right to record interactions with the police, and the USDOJ's Civil Rights Division declaring that citizens have a First Amendment right to videotape the actions of police officers in public places and that seizure or destruction of such recordings violates constitutional rights.

So no, there has not been a successful criminalization of these types of recordings. Quite the opposite, fortunately.
posted by peeedro at 9:59 PM on February 27, 2013


Thanks for that: good news, then.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:57 PM on February 27, 2013


Last year the federal courts struck down an Illinois law that prevented recording the police.
posted by Mid at 10:13 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Somewhat related video. (Canadian citizen crossing into the US.)
posted by salvia at 7:10 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


“Homeland Security”: The Trillion-Dollar Concept That No One Can Define
posted by homunculus at 12:08 PM on March 3, 2013


Potential consequences of asserting your rights against illegal searches while black. Not specifically DHS-related.
posted by eviemath at 7:16 AM on March 8, 2013


How Chinese secret police talk about their jobs when they think the camera isn't rolling

"This reminds me of nothing so much as the DHS checkpoint officials who won't tell you if you're being detained, won't tell you if you're legally required to answer their questions about your citizenship, but also won't let you go."
posted by homunculus at 10:38 AM on March 16, 2013


« Older Every issue of Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milk...  |  A million times... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments