The situation in Arivaca, Arizona, where residents face off with Border Patrol in front of neighbors and cameras, is tense enough. Federal agents have told locals, "you have no rights here," even as they run them through a daily gauntlet and harass them when they protest the situation.
But imagine running into Border Patrol agents conducting a roving patrol on an isolated road, with only your children for company. That happened to Clarisa Christiansen, who lives outside of Tucson about 40 miles from the border. She says the agents threatened her with a Taser, forced her from her car as her kids watched—and slashed her tire for good measure.
The American Civil Liberties Union described several cases of abuse, including Christiansen's in a complaint filed with the Department of Homeland Security (PDF). They've since posted videos abut the incidents, in which the victims describe their experiences, to raise the pressure and overcome a little bureaucratic inertia (see below). A lawsuit filed yesterday seeks to raise the pressure still further, since federal officials are stonewalling efforts to get information about just how they're conducting those patrols—though the experiences of those on the receiving end are not encouraging.
The description below is from the complaint.
On May 21, 2013, Clarisa Christiansen was driving home with her seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son after picking her daughter up from elementary school. Ms. Christiansen and her children a re U.S. citizens and resident s of Three Points, Arizona, located west of Tucson and approximately 40 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. On their way home, at approximately 2:15 pm, the family was pulled over by a Border Patrol vehicle. The stop occurred on a stretch of dirt road about two miles from their home, which is approximately fifteen miles from the elementary school.
Ms. Christiansen stopped her vehicle and was approached by a Border Patrol agent. The agent asked her if she was a U.S. citizen; she answered affirmatively. The agent then demanded that Ms. Christ iansen exit her vehicle so it could be searched. Ms. Christiansen stated that she did not consent to a search and asked the agent why she had been stopped. The agent responded that he would not provide an explanation until Ms. Christiansen exited her vehicle. Ms. Christiansen stated that she would not exit her vehicle until she was provided with an explanation for the stop. The agent refused and was clearly agitated that Ms. Christiansen had requested an explanation. At that point, two additional Border Patrol agents approached Ms. Christiansen's vehicle.
Ms. Christiansen then stated that if there was no reason for stopping her that she would be on her way, and wished the agent a good day. The agent told her, "You're not going anywhere." That agent then said to the other agents, "This one is being difficult, get the Taser." The agent opened the driver's side door and demanded that she exit. Ms. Christiansen, now fearing for her safety and that of her children, refused. Ms. Christiansen's children became upset; her daughter asked, "Mommy what's going on?" Ms. Christiansen told the children to stay calm and sit still, but she could see they were confused and afraid.
The agent then approached Ms. Christiansen with a retractable knife and threatened to cut her out of her seatbelt if she didn't exit the vehicle. Ms. Christiansen repeated her demand for an explanation, which the agents still refused to give her. Instead, the agent forcibly reached inside Ms. Christiansen's vehicle without her consent and removed the keys from the ignition.
Ms. Christiansen had no choice but to exit the vehicle. She presented her identification. The agents ran a background check, gave her back her driver's license, returned to their vehicle without saying anything, and drove away. The entire stop lasted approximately 35 minutes. At that point, Ms. Christiansen noticed that her rear tire had been punctured and was flat. There was a large incision along the side of the tire, consistent with a knife puncture and not a routine or accidental flat. It was a very hot day and there was no one for miles around. Fortunately, Ms. Christiansen was able to contact her brother to bring her a car jack to change the flat tire.
When Christiansen complained to the Department of Homeland Security about the incident and demanded compensation for the tire, she was initially put off. Only after the ACLU became involved did an official—Richard Hill—respond. He told her he thought the tire had been torn and not intentionally slashed (see the photo above and judge for yourself). He also told her he would interview one of the agents involved and follow up with her.
Shockingly, she hadn't heard from him again by the time the ACLU filed its own complaint.
For the record, speaking as an Arizona resident, stranding people in the Sonoran desert—especially children, as temperatures start to climb during late spring—is a very effective way to kill them.
Last year, the ACLU reached a settlement with Customs and Border Protection regarding its controversial roving patrols along the Canadian border, on Washington's Olympic Peninsula.The feds didn't admit any wrongdoing, but agreed to provide agents with Fourth Amendment training and to share data from the stops with the ACLU for 18 months.
The lawsuit filed yesterday seeks similar data about internal stops in Arizona, since the feds have ignored all polite requests for such information.
Given what they've apparently been up to, the reticence may be understandable.