As the national election year dialog began to create a somewhat comical lather last week with accusations that a certain major party candidate would socialize the republic and end freedom as we know it, the American Civil Liberties Union had something a little more meaty for us to think about. It was a map and an accompanying media package documenting the remarkable extent to which Americans already live in areas where their Fourth Amendment constitutional rights to unreasonable searches can be instantly suspended by the U.S. Border Patrol.
The ACLU refers to it as a “Constitution Free Zone”–extending 100 miles inland from any “external boundary” of the United States–wherein the Border Patrol can simply decide to set up “administrative” checkpoints where motorists and other travelers can be stopped and searched, without cause, ostensibly to protect the nation’s borders. The ACLU provides the documentation about what can happen at these checkpoints, but equally unsettling is that the zone in which these stops can occur is enormous and, according to ACLU, actually incorporates 2/3 of the population of the country. Not only does the zone expand from the Canadian border to engulf Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, but it also swallows whole states, including Florida, Maine, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Hawaii and nearly all of New York.
Readers can decide for themselves whether the ACLU is being alarmist, but most Washingtonians should read, if they haven’t already, the March 21, 2007 column by Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat. Westneat’s column, “Checkpoint sticks in Forks’ craw,” includes his report on what happened last year when the Border Patrol set up one of its checkpoints and blocked highway 101, just outside the town.
“The primary purpose of the temporary checkpoints,” the Border Patrol informed the public, “is to support enhanced national-security efforts to deter, detect and prevent the threat of terrorist attacks against the American people.”
“It freaked me out,” a young woman who was stopped on her way to her job at Peninsula College told Westneat. “Since when in this country do we get stopped on the street and questioned about our citizenship?”
You can find the link to Westneat’s column in the ACLU package, or link directly to it here.