During a routine trip from San Diego to Phoenix in 2009, Pastor Steven Anderson was stopped at an internal immigration checkpoint about 70 miles from the Mexican border. A stern-looking Border Patrol agent asked Anderson to provide proof of citizenship and requested permission to search his car.
The persistent pastor declined both, citing his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He then asked to be allowed to go on his way. The request was denied.
After a period of dithering, agents announced that a police dog had alerted to potential contraband in the vehicle. They instructed Anderson to pull over into a secondary inspection area. The pastor repeatedly refused, at which point a Border Patrol agent and a state police officer simultaneously broke both windows of his car and shot the pastor with Tasers from each side, delivering lengthy and repeated shocks while Anderson repeatedly screamed in agony.
The brutality was captured on video. Anderson's hand-held camera recorded events until moments after he was shocked, and CCTV footage captured much of what came afterward. In recorded testimony the following day, Anderson described how one of the agents involved with the incident shoved the pastor's head into the shards of broken window glass while dragging him from the car, and forced him to the ground. Other agents joined the action, with one repeatedly beating Anderson with a baton.
Lying helplessly on the ground, the pastor was again shocked with Tasers. After several minutes, the agents finally pulled up his bloodied body and took the broken man into custody.
Anderson is a hero to the members of a growing national cause. A decentralized movement of refuseniks is increasingly fighting back against the Border Patrol's shocking internal checkpoint system. Through civil disobedience, legal challenges, and generous helpings of YouTube, these ID scofflaws may be getting bloody, but they are actively challenging the constitutionality of a system most Americans don't realize exists.
Papers, Or Else
Noncitizen permanent residents over 18 years old are required to carry green cards when they travel within the United States, according to the Immigration and Nationality Act. Those caught without one face a maximum fine up to $100 and/or imprisonment for up to 30 days for each offense. But you can't tell the difference between a citizen and green card holder without seeing some kind of government identification. Given Americans' historical antipathy toward national ID requirements, which are routine in most of the rest of the world, it comes as a surprise to many that they can be asked to provide proof of citizenship even when venturing nowhere near an international border.
More than 70 immigration checkpoints manned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) now operate well inside U.S. territory, as far away from the Mexican frontier as Sarita, Texas-nearly 90 miles north of the nearest major border crossing. The agency has used internal traffic checkpoints since 1924. Since the 9/11 attacks, the Border Patrol's mission has increasingly emphasized preventing terrorists and illegal weapons from entering the United States. Some of the checkpoints are on roads that never intersect the border. No reasonable suspicion or probable cause or consent is required for these indiscriminate detentions. Travelers usually comply politely, not knowing-and likely not caring-that by doing so they are waiving their constitutional rights.
But not everyone plays along. As a scouring of YouTube videos, border-state news archives, and court cases can attest, hundreds of resisters, mostly males in or around their thirties, are refusing to comply, capturing the often nerve-rattling conflicts on their smartphones. They may be lone dissidents, but they have created a robust online community of checkpoint constitutionalists.
The resulting videos are never exactly the same, but they tend to follow a pattern. CBP agents, at times accompanied by area law enforcement officers, await as the motorist pulls up. Drug-sniffing dogs are often led by another CBP agent around the line of vehicles as they wait in a queue. Drivers are instructed to roll down their window if they haven't already. The CBP agent then firmly asks the driver, along with any other passengers, if they are United States citizens.
This is when the confrontation begins.
"Am I being detained, agent?" is the common refusenik reply.
"No you are not being detained, sir," the agent replies. "We need to know if you are a United States citizen."
The scene is usually tense. Drivers are visibly nervous in many of the videos. It's not easy to stand up for your rights on a lonely desert road when surrounded by German Shepherds and heavily armed men in green, military-looking uniforms.