Civil Liberties

Handy Guide Tells You What Rights Border Patrol Is Violating When They Pound on You


U.S. Customs and Border Protection

I've written recently about the ongoing tensions in Arivaca, Arizona, between local residents and the U.S. Border Patrol agents who run a checkpoint on the road in and out of town. The locals don't like being scrutinized and interrogated every time they go shopping or to school, and the feds don't like being challenged. Border Patrol agents also behaved badly in the case of Larry Kirschenman, who they roughed up at the Nogales port of entry. And they misbehaved when they apparently slashed Clarisa Christiansen's tires while rousting her well within the boundaries of the United States.

Given the wide range of surliness and abuse meted out by these uniformed guardians of the dotted line on the map and roadbocks elsewhere, just how are we supposed to know just what rights they're violating when they detain us, trash our property, or knock us around?

Fortunately, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona publishes a handy guide to your rights when encountering members of the Border Patrol. Agents may not respect it, but you can use it as a checklist for keeping track during your meetings—and possibly for planning a legal response in the aftermath.

Among the disregarded rights you are likely to encounter at checkpoints within the U.S.:

Agents should not ask questions unrelated to verifying citizenship, nor can they hold you for an extended time without cause.

Simply driving around:

Border Patrol "roving patrols" cannot pull over vehicles to question occupants about their immigration status unless agents have a "reasonable suspicion" of an immigration violation or crime. Reasonable suspicion is more than just a "hunch.

And at border crossings:

• Cannot use excessive force.

• Cannot conduct more intrusive searches such as strip searches or repeated detentions unless they have "reasonable suspicion" of an immigration violation or crime.

• Should not damage personal property during an inspection.

The guide is available in both English and Spanish so you can follow along with the bouncing baton during your Border Patrol encounters.