Drug War

ACLU Describes a 'Stop and Frisk' Policy for Americans Near the Border

Complaints detail the Border Patrol's routine constitutional abuses.



Yesterday I noted the pattern of abuses revealed by complaints against U.S. Border Patrol agents that the ACLU of Arizona obtained by suing the Department of Homeland Security under the Freedom of Information Act. The ACLU's report on those complaints and other documents it obtained as a result of the lawsuit is now available on its website (where you can also read some of the documents). In addition to arbitrary detentions and fruitless, dog-authorized searches at internal immigration checkpoints, the report discusses unjustified stops by "roving patrol" vehicles inside (and sometimes outside) the 100-mile border zone that the Border Patrol claims as its turf. The ACLU says "these documents show that Border Patrol's extra-constitutional police practices often amount to a de facto policy of 'stop and frisk' for border residents."

The incidents described in the report include motorists whose cellphones were confiscated when they attempted to record their checkpoint stops; people who were threatened with stun guns for daring to question agents' authority to detain, question, and search them; motorists who discovered property damaged or missing after searches justified by purported canine alerts; a man pulled over by Border Patrol agents seven times in one year while commuting to work; "a school bus that has been detained 'dozens of times' for secondary inspections while students are forced to stand in 100-degree heat and submit to searches of personal belongings"; a woman driving at night with her 4-year-old daughter on Interstate 10 who was tailed and stopped by a roving patrol car for no apparent reason, then interrogated and searched; and a family pulled over as they were leaving their home by a Border Patrol agent who said "I don't have to tell you" the reason for the stop.

The 142 complaints reviewed by the ACLU, which represent just a small sample of complaints against Border Patrol agents, include "44 allegations of false canine alerts resulting in prolonged detentions and/or searches of individuals who did nothing wrong and were ultimately released." In such cases, it is impossible to say whether the dog actually alerted and, if it did, whether the alert was caused by distracting odors, its handler's conscious or subconscious cues, or (as the government usually argues) imperceptible traces of contraband the vehicle once carried. But given the Supreme Court's rulings in this area, a cop with a dog in practice has the power to search any vehicle he wants. Since the Border Patrol does not keep track of fruitless searches, we have no idea how accurate its dogs are in the field, but even a well-trained dog is apt to generate many more false positives than true positives.

The prominence of drug-sniffing dogs in these encounters belies the claim that catching illegal immigrants is the main function of the checkpoints. The ACLU notes that checkpoints account for less than 1 percent of apprehensions in the Tucson and Yuma sectors. In 2013 Yuma Sector checkpoints caught just 197 deportable aliens while arresting 1,535 citizens or legal residents, mainly on drug charges. Similarly, The New York Times reports that in fiscal year 2013 checkpoints accounted for 14 percent of marijuana seized near the borders with Mexico and Canada but only 2 percent of unauthorized immigrants apprehended.

Although it's pretty clear that enforcing drug prohibition is the main function of the checkpoints, the Supreme Court has explicitly rejected that goal as a justification for random traffic stops. When the Court upheld the Border Patrol's checkpoints in the 1976 case U.S. v. Martinez-Fuerte, the justification was enforcement of immigration law. As Alex Kozinski, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, observed in a 1993 case quoted by the ACLU, "There's reason to suspect the agents working these checkpoints are looking for more than illegal aliens." He added that "if this is true, it subverts the rationale of Martinez-Fuerte and turns a legitimate administrative search into a massive violation of the Fourth Amendment."

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  1. You mean some government action is not really meant for the purpose the government states?

    Well – knock me over with a feather…

    You know who else misled others about his intentions….

    1. Jerry Sandusky?

    2. That whore in “I Like To Play Games”?

  2. Capt. Borodin: And I will have a pickup truck… maybe even a “recreational vehicle.” And drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?

    Capt. Ramius: I suppose.

    Capt. Borodin: No papers?

    Capt. Ramius: No papers, state to state.

    1. It’ll be funny in 20 years when our grandkids watch that movie and say “wait… the Russian in the movie said we could go state to state without our papers, what happened”

      1. “wait… the Russian in the movie said we could go state to state without our papers, what happened”

        Elections have consequences; the socialists won.

    2. That was on last night. What a great fucking movie.

      “He always goes right….”

  3. it subverts the rationale of Martinez-Fuerte and turns a legitimate administrative search into a massive violation of the Fourth Amendment

    Feature, not bug.

  4. a family pulled over as they were leaving their home by a Border Patrol agent who said “I don’t have to tell you” the reason for the stop

    Given that the “agent” is lying, the stoppee might reasonably fear he is a bandit and take appropriate measures. Such clowns who “put their lives on the line every day” bring it on themselves.

    1. Because you’re too much of a pussy to actually patrol the border?

    2. What happens if you drive away? Call 911 and drive away, say that you think you are being held up by somebody impersonating a police officer because s/he won’t identify the reason for the stop.

      1. What happens if you drive away?


      2. Then you deserve to die!


  5. even a well-trained dog is apt to generate many more false positives than true positives.

    And a *very* well-trained dog will generate a “positive” whenever the handler desires.

    1. That’s exactly what the dogs do. The handlers want the dogs to alert, the dogs want to please their handlers, so the dogs alert whether they detect anything or not.

      1. Yet another reason to rub (almost) everything with essence of female dog.

      2. the alert was caused by … (as the government usually argues) imperceptible traces of contraband the vehicle once carried

        Sheesh, if the dog is *that* sensitive it’s probably alerting to contraband molecules floating in the breeze.

        1. Aren’t 90 percent of all 20 dollar bills contaminated with cocaine? If you have one in uourr pocket you’re getting busted.

      3. The “Clever Hans Effect”. People testing the abilities of the horse-arithmetician would unconsciously give him clues that he could pick up.


  6. Amendment IV – The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    Uh huh.

    1. I don’t see anything there that says the people have a right to be secure against searches of their motor vehicles on paved public roads.

    2. Just as the 2A doesn’t say anything about modern firearms.

      1. And the 1A doesn’t say anything about electronic media.

        1. And the 3A doesn’t say anything about transgendered Soldiers.

        2. Neither does the 4A.

          1. See? That old 100-year-old white-guy document has no relevance to modern America!

          2. The Founders, in their infinite wisdom, omitted any mention of modern firearms and electronic media.

        3. And the 14th doesn’t say anything about illegals and dirty people that talk different.

          1. It does, however, guarantee you the right to force someone to bake you a gay wedding cake. So there is that, at least.

            1. I’ll never forget the day my wedding cake told his mother and me he was gay.

    3. So, we let dogs issue the warrants.

  7. More than the Drug War, immigration control, etc…, these stops are about job security. The Border Patrol has a vested interest in expanding its area of purview like any other bureaucracy that is empire building. Much like the USDA expanding the food stamp program by actively recruiting welfare recipients, these agents are growing their mandate simply by enforcing laws they were not drafted to enforce and daring others to tell them to stop.

    1. Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

      In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.

    2. Exactly this.

      Try to put a stop to it and the loudest shrieking will come from whatever union these thugs belong to.

  8. Citizens are first-rate toys for cops.

    1. And if yours is missing the vibrate function, just break out your the taser.

      1. … and bullets make sweet rag dolls.

  9. How did Kozinski ever make it onto a federal appeals court? He actually seems like he’s read the Constitution…

  10. Straight up Nazi’s. “I’m just following orders”.

  11. Land of the free, motherfuckers.

  12. This practice is designed not to catch illegals but to promote a backlash so border control can be even worse.

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