Immigration Checkpoint Tyranny
by Jacob G. Hornberger
Welcome, New Yorkers, to the world of immigration tyranny! You’re now seeing what Americans in the Southwest have had to experience for decades.
Starting back in the 1960s, the Border Patrol, along with the DEA, instituted border patrol checkpoints on highways in Texas and the rest of the American Southwest similar to that found in Cuba. Thanks to the much-vaunted “war on terrorism,” those highway checkpoints have now spread to New York, as 21-year-old student Jessica Cooke of Ogdensburg, New York, discovered last week.
Traveling within the United States, Cooke encountered one of those checkpoints, a place where armed agents of the Border Patrol stop domestic travelers on U.S. highways to check citizenship and to search for drugs. During her encounter with the agents, Cooke failed to show the necessary deference to authority that Border Patrol agents expect. For that, she paid a heavy price — being manhandled to the ground and tased, causing her to scream in agony and pain.
The video of the encounter is posted near the bottom of this news story about the event.
This is the type of Cuban-like police state activity with which I grew up in Laredo, Texas, which is situated on the Texas-Mexican border. I first wrote about these Cuban-like highway checkpoints in 1998 in an article entitled “Domestic Passports for Hispanic Americans.”
Northbound travelers from Laredo to San Antonio on Interstate 35 come over a crest of a hill and encounter an astounding sight — a Border Patrol checkpoint. The reason the sight is so astounding is that at first blush, you think that you’re in Mexico and approaching the U.S.-Mexico border. After all, border checkpoints are supposed to be at the border, right? Well, this “border” checkpoint is about 40 miles north of the border.
Everyone is required to stop at the checkpoint. The driver is expected to roll down his window, at which point a Border Patrol agent asks, “Are you an American citizen?” If you’re an Anglo and speak English without an accent and behave in a friendly, deferential manner (“Good morning, officer. Yes, I’m an American citizen.”), you should be automatically waved on. If you were a long-haired hippie in the 1960s and 1970s, you would be required to open your trunk and have your vehicle searched for drugs.
However, if you are a dark-skinned Mexican-American, especially one who cannot speak English (and a large percentage of the population in Laredo cannot speak English), you had better be carrying your passport or you are in a world of hurt. You will be detained and will not permitted to continue your trip until you somehow are able to prove that you are, in fact, an American citizen.
The reason I say that this system is similar to what is found in Cuba is because I’ve had the same experience there — or at least near-experience. When I visited Cuba many years ago, I took a cab from Havana to a town called Trinidad, which was about 6 hours away. There were no hotels in Trinidad and the only place to stay overnight was by renting a room in someone’s home.
No one would permit me to stay in his home. Why? I had forgotten my passport back in my hotel in Havana. The law prohibited people from renting rooms to people who didn’t have their papers with them.
There was palpable fear on the faces of the Cuban renters. One lady told me, “You will never make it back to Havana because there are checkpoints along the highway. Without your passport, you will certainly be jailed for an indefinite time.” Needless to say, I had no desire to spend any time in a Cuban jail.
I finally paid a bribe to a homeowner to overlook the passport requirement. I flew back to Havana, distracting the airline agent with talk about baseball in the hopes he would forget about my passport. It worked and I was able to get back to Havana without incident.
Notice something important here: These checkpoints are for people traveling within Cuba. That’s the way things work in a police state.
That’s precisely what happens to people who are traveling within the United States in the Southwest. American citizens who never enter Mexico and are traveling solely within the United States are subjected to these Border Patrol checkpoints.
While things might have changed since I moved away, interestingly there was never a Border Patrol checkpoint for people traveling east to Corpus Christi or south to Brownsville. But that didn’t mean they weren’t checking for illegal aliens and drugs there too. For those highways, they used what are called “roving” Border Patrol checkpoints. That entails Border Patrol agents arbitrarily pulling you over and demanding to search your vehicle.
I was once the victim of this type of Border Patrol stop. I was a teenager and headed to the beach to meet friends. A Border Patrol car came up behind me and flashed his lights, indicating that he wanted me to pull over. I did so and the agent approached my vehicle and asked me to get out and open my trunk. I politely said, “No, thank you.”
He then made it clear that he was no longer requesting me to open the trunk but was ordering me to do so. I said, “I don’t think you have legal authority to issue such an order.” He screamed, “Don’t you know the drug problem we are having in this country?” (Yes, the war on drugs was going on 40 years ago!)
I responded, “You don’t have the authority to arbitrarily stop me to look for drugs.” Taken aback, he said, “I won’t be looking for drugs. I will be looking for illegal aliens but if I happen to find drugs, I will enforce the law.”
In fact, that’s what these Border Patrol checkpoints have turned into — a way to meet drug-war arrest quotas and, even better, to confiscated assets under the infamous asset-forfeiture laws, which are enabling law-enforcement agencies to become self-funding fiefdoms. Take a look at the video with Jessica Cooke. After claiming that she “looked nervous,” the Border Patrol agents ordered her to pull over and await a K-9 unit. After manhandling her and tasing her, they failed to find any drugs.
In any event, I told that Border Patrol agent that he didn’t have the authority to stop me and look for illegal aliens either. On roving Border Patrol stops, they need some sort of reasonable suspicion that the person they’re stopping has committed a crime. But the Supreme Court has held that just about any ridiculous excuse can serve as a reasonable suspicion.
The agent who stopped me didn’t point to anything suspicious. He just said to me, “I’m going to give you a choice. You can follow me back to headquarters, where we will open your trunk there or you can open up your trunk here and proceed on your trip.” I wish I had chosen the former but that would have meant a long delay in meeting my friends at the beach and so I chose the latter. He looked in my trunk and give me permission to continue on my way. I later learned from a friend, whose father headed up the local Border Patrol office, that I was the talk of the station.
There is another factor at work here. The Border Patrol loves targeting young people for abuse. That’s because some young people, despite the many years of public schooling, still have an air of independence and rebelliousness, unlike many old people who have learned to be deferential to those in authority. The agents feel that it’s their moral duty to smash that sense of independence and rebelliousness out of young people and convert them into good little dutiful citizens who say “Yes sir” to the agents and obediently follow their orders. You see this in the Jessica Cooke video, where the Border Patrol agents clearly do not like Cooke talking back to them and finally escalate the situation by one agent ordering Cooke to move to another location. Expecting Cooke to follow his order, much like an army private is expected to follow the orders of his drill sergeant, the agent went ballistic when Cooke failed to obey his order, whereupon he proceeded to manhandle her and move her involuntarily to a new location.
Four years ago, country music star Willie Nelson fell into the snare of a Border Patrol checkpoint. One thing is clear: It would be impossible to mistake Willie Nelson for an illegal alien. Nonetheless, the Border Patrol refused to let him proceed on his way. That’s because the agents found a quantity of marijuana inside his vehicle. Nelson was lucky. Perhaps owing to his celebrity, the feds turned the case over to the state authorities, who permitted him to plead to a misdemeanor.
These Border Patrol checkpoints gradually spread to highways running east-west in the American Southwest. And as we now see, Americans who live in the northern states are getting to experience what people in the Southwest have experienced for decades.
All to keep us safe, of course, from the drug dealers, the illegal aliens, the terrorists, the Muslims, and the boogeymen. But pray tell: Who protects the citizens from the police state itself?