On January 15, 2014, the ACLU of Southern Arizona filed formal complaints with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General and Office For Civil Rights and Civil Liberties regarding CBP’s conduct of internal checkpoints in Southern Arizona. In the complaint, the ACLU details a dozen incidents of gross Border Patrol abuse at these checkpoints over the past fifteen months or so.
Having experienced first hand the harassment of Border Patrol agents at these types of checkpoints over the past six years, none of the abuses highlighted came as a surprise to me. Indeed, several themes appear to be repeated over and over again. First, many of the incidents described by the ACLU are ones where Border Patrol agents never even bother to ask the vehicle occupants their immigration status even though immigration is the sole ‘legitimate’ purpose of the roadblocks. Second, the number of false or falsified drug dog alerts described in the complaint should be eye opening. Third, many of the Border Patrol agents described in the complaint are equal opportunity abusers. It doesn’t matter to them if the person they’re abusing is male or female, six years old or seventy seven. Everyone daring to use the public roads these federal roadblocks have been setup along are fair game. Everyone is a target.
My thanks go out to the ACLU for helping to shed additional light on the true nature of these federal roadblocks and the so-called public servants who operate them.
Below you’ll find the following:
- Links to the ACLU complaint & several news articles related to it
- A description of each incident appearing in the complaint
- The text of the ACLU press release and one of the news articles.
- Border Patrol checkpoints in southern Arizona violate the constitutional rights of border residents, ACLU of Arizona demands investigation – ACLU of Southern Arizona
- ACLU seeks probe of alleged abuses at Arizona border checkpoints – Yahoo News
- Probe sought of Border Patrol checkpoint actions – Washington Post
Below, you’ll find a description of each of the abuses highlighted by the ACLU in its complaint. The complaint in its entirety is available here:
John Forrey – Tombstone Checkpoint, Route 80, Dec. 6, 2013.
On December 6, 2013, John Forrey arrived at the Tombstone checkpoint located on Arizona State Route 80. Mr. Forrey is a professional photographer and native of Bisbee, Arizona. An agent peered through the back window of his vehicle and asked him to open his trunk. Mr. Forrey did not consent to a search of his trunk. The agent asked Mr. Forrey where he was coming from. Mr. Forrey responded that this was personal information. The agent asked Mr. Forrey if he had a driver’s license, and Mr. Forrey said that he did. The agent then directed Mr. Forrey into a secondary inspection area. Mr. Forrey asked why he was being detained. The agent called over another agent, identified as Agent Torres, who asked Mr. Forrey if he was refusing to go to secondary. Mr. Forrey replied that he was not refusing but was asking why he was being detained. Mr. Forrey then pulled into secondary and left the motor running and his foot on the brake.
Agent Torres approached and asked if Mr. Forrey had a weapon. Mr. Forrey did not have a weapon, but because the question was not related to his citizenship, he paused to consider whether or not he was required to answer. Before Mr. Forrey could respond, however, Agent Torres unholstered his gun, and holding it a foot away, pointed it at Mr. Forrey’s face, screaming at him not to reach for anything. Other agents approached, pulled Mr. Forrey’s left arm through the open window, and began twisting it.
The agents opened the door as Agent Torres directed them to pull Mr. Forrey out. Mr. Forrey tried to put the automatic transmission in park so the car would not roll. Agent Torres, still pointing his gun at Mr. Forrey’s head, started screaming, “He’s reaching for the console!” Mr. Forrey stopped reaching for the transmission. The agents started dragged Mr. Forrey out of the car, causing his foot to come off the brake and the car to roll forward. Agent Torres yelled, “Put it in park, asshole!” Mr. Forrey put the car in park. Agent Torres then holstered his pistol, pulled out his Taser and yelled, “Let’s just Taser him!” Instead, the agents handcuffed Mr. Forrey and left him on a bench nearby while they searched his car.
A supervisor approached and accused Mr. Forrey of intentionally trying to harm the agents by allowing his car to roll forward. Mr. Forrey noted that, with a gun pointed at his head, he had been instructed not to reach for anything while being forcibly removed from his vehicle. Mr. Forrey objected strongly to his detention and to the conduct of Agent Torres. The supervisor did not release Mr. Forrey from the handcuffs, but said that he would “talk to Torres.”
Agents continued to search the interior of the vehicle over Mr. Forrey’s repeated objections. To open the passenger door, which was locked, one of the agents broke the door latch mechanism; as a result, the door now does not open or close securely. The agents called for an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer, but an officer never arrived. Mr. Forrey was detained for approximately 40 minutes before he was finally taken out of handcuffs and released. He suffered a bruise on his upper left arm and cuts on his left hand. Mr. Forrey was not asked about his citizenship status.
This was not the first time Mr. Forrey has been detained by the Border Patrol. About three months earlier, Mr. Forrey was pulled over while driving approximately 30 miles north of the border. An agent approached him and immediately asked to look in his trunk. The agent did not say why he pulled Mr. Forrey over and did not ask him about his residence status. Mr. Forrey was detained for 30 minutes before being released. The next day, Mr. Forrey arrived at the Tombstone checkpoint. Again an agent asked to look in Mr. Forrey’s trunk. Mr. Forrey refused and had to wait while a service canine inspected his car. Mr. Forrey is a professional photographer who travels extensively in southern Arizona. He has been pulled over by Border Patrol dozens of times, sometimes as far as 60 miles from the border.
Dale Polen is a six-year resident of Arivaca, Arizona and a local mechanic.
On December 2, 2013, Mr. Polen was on his way to get supplies for work when he arrived at the Arivaca Road checkpoint at approximately 8:45 a.m. An agent slapped the side of his vehicle and told him to “pull into secondary.”
Mr. Polen asked why, to which the agent responded, “You’re driving like an idiot.” Mr. Polen objected to the agent’s characterization of his driving. The agent then stated that a service canine had “alerted.”
Mr. Polen pulled into the secondary inspection area and the agent directed him to exit his vehicle. The agent again stated, “The only reason we pulled you over is because you were driving like an idiot.” Mr. Polen objected that traffic enforcement was outside Border Patrol’s authority. The agent then claimed that a service canine had “tagged” the vehicle. The agent proceeded to remove Mr. Polen’s two dogs from the car and search the interior of Mr. Polen’s vehicle. When Mr. Polen objected to the search, one agent said, “You won’t be laughing when we find stuff.” Another agent remarked, “Arivaca is just a bunch of smugglers.” One of the agents kept his right hand on his firearm during his interaction with Mr. Polen. Mr. Polen was detained for approximately 30 minutes before he was released. He was never asked about his citizenship.
Like all Arivaca residents, Mr. Polen must pass through a checkpoint anytime he wishes to leave town, and has had similar encounters with Border Patrol at the Arivaca Road checkpoint in the past. Last year, agents detained Mr. Polen for 30 minutes and searched the interior of his vehicle after claiming that a service canine had alerted. On another occasion, Mr. Polen arrived at the checkpoint on his motorcycle. A service canine alerted, jumping up on Mr. Polen’s motorcycle. Agents told Mr. Polen to get off his motorcycle and began to question him about drugs. When Mr. Polen objected to being detained, an agent reached out and grabbed Mr. Polen’s arm. The other agents assisted in throwing Mr. Polen to the ground. Agents held Mr. Polen down while his motorcycle was searched. After more than 20 minutes, he was released. Mr. Polen tried to make a complaint to local law enforcement, but officials dismissed his concerns. As a result of these experiences, Mr. Polen feels extremely apprehensive every time he approaches the checkpoint, which he tries as much as possible to avoid.
Tim Buchanan – Arivaca Road Checkpoint, Amado, AZ, Dec. 2, 2013.
On December 2, 2013, Tim Buchanan arrived at the Arivaca Road checkpoint at approximately 9:30 a.m. Mr. Buchanan is a 61-year-old retiree and 12-year resident of Arivaca. He drives through the checkpoint several times a week, usually on his way to play golf. On this occasion, an agent asked Mr. Buchanan if he was a U.S. citizen, and he confirmed that he is. The agent then directed him to the secondary inspection area. Mr. Buchanan pulled into the secondary inspection area and exited his vehicle.
An agent who later identified himself as Agent Taylor approached with a service canine, opened the driver’s side door, and directed the dog to enter Mr. Buchanan’s vehicle. Mr. Buchanan immediately objected that he did not consent to allowing the dog inside his vehicle. Agent Taylor responded by yelling, “Shut your fucking mouth!” Mr. Buchanan repeated his objection to the search. Agent Taylor yelled, “Shut your fucking mouth you fucking asshole and let me do my job!” Mr. Buchanan turned to another agent standing by and asked for an explanation. Agent Taylor interjected, “Shut your fucking mouth!” The other agent directed Mr. Buchanan to sit on a bench. Mr. Buchanan repeated his request for an explanation. Agent Taylor again interrupted him, screaming, “I said shut the fuck up,” and placed his right hand on his firearm. Agent Taylor then continued searching Mr. Buchanan’s vehicle, muttering loudly to himself, “These fuckers…the fucking cunts.” Mr. Buchanan was deeply shaken by Agent Taylor’s actions, but he persisted in asking the other agent why his vehicle was being searched. Agent Taylor again interrupted and said, “Because I didn’t recognize you.”
Mr. Buchanan was detained for approximately 30 minutes before he was released. When he asked Agent Taylor for his name, the agent concealed his badge from view but responded, “Taylor.” Mr. Buchanan was deeply traumatized by the encounter; nonetheless, he called a Border Patrol supervisor to report the incident. Approximately one week later, a Border Patrol “community liaison” called Mr. Buchanan. The liaison informed Mr. Buchanan that agents had confirmed his account, and clarified that the abusive agent’s name was not “Taylor,” but “Haley.” The liaison said, “I don’t know why he lied to you.” The liaison would not say whether Agent Haley faced any consequences for his actions, but tried to reassure Mr. Buchanan that “it won’t happen again.” Mr. Buchanan later learned that a Border Patrol agent in Arivaca had asked Mr. Polen (whose checkpoint encounter, described above, occurred minutes ahead of Mr. Buchanan’s) for information about Mr. Buchanan; Mr. Buchanan does not know why a Border Patrol agent would be asking other Arivaca residents about him.
Shirley Stepp – Arivaca Road Checkpoint, Amado, AZ, Dec. 1, 2013.
On the morning of December 1, 2013, Shirley Stepp pulled into the Arivaca Road checkpoint following a run-in with a dead skunk. An agent asked if she was a U.S. citizen, and she confirmed that she is. The agent asked her about the smell of her car, and she explained that she had been at the home of a neighbor who recently killed a skunk. The agent said, “No, that’s not what it smells like,” and directed Ms. Stepp to the secondary inspection area.
Ms. Stepp pulled into the secondary inspection area and exited the vehicle. The agent indicated that he had called for a service canine. No service canine arrived, however, and after waiting nearly 45 minutes, the agent told Ms. Stepp, “It will save time if we can search your car.” In order to be released, Ms. Stepp consented to a search. The agent conducted an extended, invasive search of her vehicle. Ms. Stepp keeps a gas treatment additive in the rear of her vehicle; later, she discovered the container had been opened and flammable liquid was leaking all over the rear of the vehicle. After searching the interior of her car, the agent directed Ms. Stepp to empty her pockets. The agent questioned her at length about drugs and her prescribed medication, refusing to believe that the smell was due to a skunk, even when Ms. Stepp offered to call her neighbor to confirm her story. At one point, the agent claimed that by carrying her prescribed medication, Ms. Stepp had committed “an arrestable offense.” The service canine never arrived. Finally, after detaining Ms. Stepp for over an hour, the agents released her.
Ms. Stepp was outraged by this encounter. She felt humiliated watching her friends and neighbors drive by while she was detained. Some people tried to stop to check on her but were waved away by Border Patrol agents who claimed that she was “under investigation.” Though she has lived in Arivaca for the past 25 years, Ms. Stepp fears interacting with Border Patrol agents at the checkpoint, which she must drive through several times every week. She hears frequent reports from friends and neighbors about Border Patrol agents harassing and abusing Arivaca residents at the checkpoint.
Don Tran & Chad Ivey – I-8 Checkpoint, California-Arizona State Line, Nov. 29, 2013.
On November 29, 2013, Don Tran and Chad Ivey were driving from San Diego to Phoenix on I-8. Mr. Tran, 49, is a law school graduate and Mr. Ivey, 41, is a Marine veteran; both are IT professionals. They arrived at the I-8 Border Patrol checkpoint around 10:30 p.m. An agent asked if they were U.S. citizens, and they confirmed that they are. The agent directed Mr. Tran to pull into the secondary inspection area. Mr. Tran complied. In the secondary inspection area, agents again asked if Mr. Tran and Mr. Ivey were U.S. citizens, and again they stated that they are. An agent then asked Mr. Tran and Mr. Ivey to step out of the vehicle, without explanation. They both complied. As he was exiting, Mr. Tran locked his car.
Mr. Tran spoke with a supervising agent and made clear that he did not consent to a search of his vehicle. Mr. Tran and Mr. Ivey sat on a bench and watched as an agent arrived with a service canine. Mr. Tran and Mr. Ivey observed the dog and its handler, later identified as Agent Danny Ruiz circled their vehicle. The dog did not react to Mr. Tran’s vehicle in any way. After passing Mr. Tran’s vehicle, the dog alerted to a hand bag in an adjacent vehicle, pulling the bag out of the open trunk. The Border Patrol supervisor then notified Mr. Tran and Mr. Ivey, “We need to search your car. The dog got a hit on your car.” Mr. Tran objected that the dog had not alerted on his vehicle but rather on an item in an adjacent vehicle. Nonetheless, both the supervisor and Agent Ruiz asserted that they dog had “hit a positive scent” in Mr. Tran’s vehicle, giving Border Patrol probable cause for a search.
An agent tried to open Mr. Tran’s vehicle but it was locked. Mr. Tran repeated his objection to any search of his vehicle and suggested they call a judge to obtain a warrant. A group of agents conferred together before notifying Mr. Tran, “It’s going to be a while, we need to pat you down and put you in a holding cage while we wait for the magistrate.” Mr. Tran was directed to leave his car keys with the agents. Mr. Tran and Mr. Ivey each asked if they were being detained. Both of them were told, “You are being detained.” Mr. Tran and Mr. Ivey were taken to a holding area of small, wire cages and placed in separate cells. After approximately 45 minutes, agents returned and released them. After returning to their vehicle, it was apparent from the disarray that agents had searched the interior, including the glove compartment, center console, and trunk.
The Garcia Family – Route 86 Checkpoint, east of Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation, Aug. 19, 2013.
On August 19, 2013, Jason and Charlotte Garcia were driving east on State Route 86 from Sells, Arizona with their twin six-year-old foster children. Mrs. Garcia was driving when the family arrived at the checkpoint. Without inquiring about the family’s residence status, the agent directed Mrs. Garcia to pull into the secondary inspection area. Mrs. Garcia asked why they were being detained and the agent responded angrily, “Because I told you so.” The Garcias again asked for an explanation. A female agent, later identified as K. Riden, approached and directed Mrs. Garcia to pull into secondary. Agent Riden stated that she would forcefully remove the Garcias from their vehicle and drive the car into secondary if they did not comply. The Garcias repeated their request for an explanation. Agent Riden claimed that a service canine had “alerted” to the vehicle. The Garcias stated that they did not have anything in the vehicle that would cause a dog to alert, and no dog was nearby.
Agent Riden then directed another agent to “put it down,” shorthand for deploying a tire deflation device to prevent the vehicle from driving away. Mrs. Garcia told the agent that she would go to the secondary inspection area, and Agent Riden instructed her to “hold on.” The tire deflation device was removed and Mrs. Garcia drove into secondary, where Agent Riden demanded that the Garcias exit the vehicle. The Garcias had begun recording the incident on a cell phone. When Mrs. Garcia exited the vehicle with the phone, Agent Riden yelled at her to turn it off, and tried unsuccessfully to grab the phone from Mrs. Garcia’s hand, poking her chest. Mrs. Garcia handed the phone to her husband. Agent Riden continued to yell and demanded that Mr. Garcia turn the phone off. Agent Riden stated that Mr. Garcia could not use her phone to record because Border Patrol was searching the vehicle “based on probable cause.” Agent Riden continued yelling at Mr. Garcia to turn off the phone.
The Garcia family was escorted to a nearby bench. Several agents stood over them in a threatening manner as the Garcia parents tried to comfort their sons, who were terrified by what was happening. From where they were sitting the Garcias could not see whether or not agents were searching their vehicle. Agent Riden continued yelling at Mr. Garcia to turn off his phone. Another agent told the Garcias they were “setting terrible role models” for their children. Mr. Garcia could see that Agent Riden’s behavior was upsetting his children, so he turned the phone off, but not before Agent Riden attempted, again unsuccessfully, to grab the phone out of his hands. Another agent pulled Mr. and Mrs. Garcia aside and told them not to “argue” with Agent Riden which would “just make matters worse” for them. The Garcia parents continued to try to comfort their children, who were visibly upset. Finally, the Garcia family was released. They were never asked about their citizenship.
This incident was extremely traumatic for the Garcia children, who continued to refer to the experience for several weeks. One of the children stated that he was afraid that Border Patrol agents were going to “throw Mom down.” The other child said he did not want to visit his cousin in Sells anymore because he did not want to cross the checkpoint again. Several days after the incident, the Garcia children spotted some Border Patrol agents in a local diner and were instantly afraid; the boys clung to their parents and asked if the agents were going to harm them. Both Mr. and Mrs. Garcia work in Sells. It is not possible for them to return from work without passing through one of the four Border Patrol checkpoints surrounding the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation. Mrs. Garcia often returns from work late at night, sometimes arriving at the checkpoint around midnight, with no other cars around. Agents have repeatedly demanded that she open her trunk for inspection, questioned her about matters unrelated to her immigration status, and refused to provide names and badge numbers when requested.
Mr. Garcia says, “The Reservation has become a police state. It seems like no one can go out in public without being questioned by Border Patrol agents.” He says Border Patrol agents do not respect tribal customs or the law, and that abuses of tribal members19 have become more common because agents “are never held accountable for their actions.”
Julia Turner – Tombstone Checkpoint, Route 80, Jan. 1, 2013.
Julia Turner – Tombstone Checkpoint, Route 80, Nov. 8, 2012.
On the evening of January 1, 2013, Julia Turner, then 19-years-old, was on her way home from work. Ms. Turner is Hispanic and describes her appearance as Hispanic. At the Tombstone checkpoint, Ms. Turner was questioned about her citizenship and asked to hand over her driver’s license. An Agent Cooper walked around her vehicle with a service canine. Ms. Turner saw that the dog did not react to her vehicle and had begun to move to the car behind hers when Agent Cooper pulled on the dog and started tapping on the trunk of Ms. Turner’s vehicle. Agent Cooper then told Ms. Turner the dog had “hit” on something in the car and directed her to pull into the secondary inspection area.
Ms. Turner pulled into the secondary inspection area, turned off her vehicle, and exited with her purse and phone. Agent Cooper told her to leave her purse and phone in the car. Ms. Turner objected, and Agent Cooper tried to grab her phone out of her hands. She again objected, but Agent Cooper told her it was “part of procedure.” Ms. Turner retained her phone and called her father, a retired Sheriff’s Deputy with extensive experience with police dogs.20 Two other agents approached and an Agent Nabity told Ms. Turner that if she did not hang up the phone she would have to “sit there a long time and not be able to leave.” Meanwhile, Agent Cooper and another agent searched Ms. Turner’s car. Agents removed Ms. Turner’s registration as well as her prescription medication. Agent Cooper and Agent Nabity began to question her about the medication at length, even after they were presented with a valid prescription. Ms. Turner was detained approximately 35 minutes before she was released.
Two months earlier, on the evening of November 8, 2012, Ms. Turner was driving home from work when an agent asked her for her driver’s license, proof of insurance, and information related to her commute. An agent then notified Ms. Turner that a dog had “alerted,” giving Border Patrol probable cause to search her car, and directed her to the secondary inspection area. An agent told Ms. Turner to hand over her cell phone, but she refused and was able to call her father. Agents detained Ms. Turner for approximately 45 minutes while they searched her vehicle before releasing her.
In addition, Ms. Turner faced additional scrutiny on at least three prior occasions at the same checkpoint. In each instance, agents asked Ms. Turner to turn off her engine and open her trunk for inspection. Each time she was asked about her work, where she was going and why, and about her vehicle. Each time, agents asked her to show identification, registration, and proof of insurance. On several occasions, Ms. Turner witnessed other cars being waved through while she was detained. Ms. Turner believes she was subject to additional scrutiny and harassment on account of her ethnicity.
David Chapman – Huachuca City Checkpoint, Route 90, December 28, 2012.
David Chapman – Sunsites Checkpoint, Route 191, Dec. 21, 2012.
David Chapman – Sunsites Checkpoint, Route 191, Oct. 24, 2012.
David Chapman, 45, is a small business owner and 15-year resident of Pearce, Arizona. On December 28, 2012 at approximately 11:45 a.m., Mr. Chapman arrived at the Border Patrol checkpoint located on Route 90 north of Sierra Vista, Arizona. Mr. Chapman was informed that a service canine had alerted to his car, and he was directed to pull into the secondary inspection area. A supervisor named Agent Caspar approached Mr. Chapman’s vehicle with an Agent Debusk. Agent Debusk proceeded to search the interior of the vehicle and Mr. Chapman’s personal effects. Mr. Chapman repeatedly objected to the search, which greatly amused Agent Caspar. Agent Caspar laughed and said, “Go tell Congress, it won’t get you anywhere.” Mr. Chapman was detained for over ten minutes while his car was searched before he was released. He was not questioned about his residence status.
On December 21, 2012, at approximately 1:30 p.m., Mr. Chapman arrived at the Sunsites checkpoint on Route 191. He was not asked about his citizenship; instead, he was immediately directed to pull into the secondary inspection area. An Officer C. Swanson told him that a service canine had alerted and directed the dog into Mr. Chapman’s vehicle. Mr. Chapman objected to the search. Mr. Chapman later discovered the dog had destroyed some business-related paperwork in the front seat. Mr. Chapman
was eventually released.
On October 24, 2012 at approximately 9:30 a.m., Mr. Chapman arrived at the Sunsites checkpoints. A service canine jumped onto Mr. Chapman’s vehicle. Mr. Chapman objected that the dog was scratching his truck. An Agent M. Torres informed him that his dog had “hit,” and directed Mr. Chapman to pull into the secondary inspection area. Agent Torres then told Mr. Chapman that he had probable cause to search the vehicle. Another agent asked Mr. Chapman for identification and asked him to exit his vehicle. Agent Torres proceeded to lead the dog around the vehicle, saying, “Get it boy, get it boy.” The dog continued to jump onto the vehicle. Agent Torres returned the dog to its kennel and continued to search Mr. Chapman’s truck bed, pausing to confer with an Agent J. Caporale. Agent Torres questioned Mr. Chapman about his use of the vehicle and about drugs. After being detained for approximately fifteen minutes, Mr. Chapman was released. He was not asked about his residence status.
Samaritans of Green Valley (Kathy Zweig, Lyn Nowakowski, & Fawn Brown) – Arivaca Road Checkpoint, Amado, AZ, Dec. 18, 2013.
At approximately 1:45 p.m. on December 18, 2013, Kathy Zweig, 69, Lyn Nowakowski, 68, and Fawn Brown, 59, arrived at the Arivaca Road checkpoint. All three are volunteers with Samaritans of Green Valley (“Samaritans”). The group has been providing humanitarian aid in southern Arizona for the past decade and passes through the Arivaca Road checkpoint daily. On this occasion, the volunteers pulled into the checkpoint in a clearly marked Samaritans vehicle and were met by a Border Patrol agent later identified as John Howard. Agent Howard did not ask any of the women about their citizenship; instead, he asked a series of questions about the contents of their vehicle, which they answered truthfully. Agent Howard was particularly interested in the volunteers’ backpacks in the rear of the vehicle, which the volunteers explained were used to carry food, water, and medical supplies for their humanitarian aid work. Agent Howard stated that the backpacks could also be used to carry narcotics and asked the volunteers to open the trunk. When they asked why, Agent Howard stated, “Because I have mere suspicion you could be carrying drugs.” Agent Howard then directed them to “pull into secondary.”
The volunteers pulled into the secondary inspection area and exited the vehicle. They again asked for an explanation. Agent Howard said, “I pulled you over for due diligence and mere suspicion.” When the women asked Agent Howard to articulate what his suspicion was based upon, Agent Howard explained that there could be narcotics in the backpacks “because that’s what backpacks are used for. When we see backpacks, we become suspicious.” Agent Howard then repeated, “Just pop your trunk.” The women again refused and continued to ask for an explanation. Agent Howard replied, “The backpacks.” Agent Howard handed the volunteers a small, laminated card bearing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) and Border Patrol insignia and titled “Authority as an Agent.”
Ms. Zweig, Ms. Nowakowski, and Ms. Brown proceeded to record the names of Agent Howard and the two other agents present, Agent Miguel San Quentin and Agent Alexis Barrios. As they were doing so, Agent Barrios became visibly angry and agitated, and ripped his name tag off his chest and thrust it in Ms. Nowakowski’s face in an aggressive and intimidating manner. Agent Howard continued to ask for consent to search the vehicle, and the volunteers continued to refuse. After approximately ten minutes, Agent Howard told them, “We called the dog and it will be here in a few minutes.” After another ten minutes had elapsed, a service canine and its handler arrived. Ms. Nowakowski recognized the handler, Agent Ewing, from several prior interactions. Agent Ewing said, “Just let me walk around the car with the dog.” Ms. Nowaskowski again objected, and asked if she and the others were free to go. Agent Ewing said that they were. As Ms. Nowaskowski was returning to the vehicle, Agent Howard asked Agent Ewing, “Are you releasing them?” Agent Ewing responded that he was.
Ms. Zweig, Ms. Nowakowski, and Ms. Brown were detained for approximately thirty minutes. They were never asked about their citizenship.
Below appears the text of the ACLU’s press release regarding the complaint along with the text of a related news article:
Border Patrol checkpoints in southern Arizona violate the constitutional rights of border residents, ACLU of Arizona demands investigation
Formal complaint to DHS officials describes abusive and unlawful behavior by U.S. Border Patrol officials at checkpoints
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jan. 15, 2013
CONTACT: Steve Kilar, ACLU of Arizona, (602) 492-8540
TUCSON –U.S. Border Patrol agents at southern Arizona checkpoints are routinely violating the constitutional rights of local residents, calling into question the legitimacy of these checkpoints and prompting the ACLU of Arizona to demand a thorough review of the policies and practices governing checkpoint operations.
“Border Patrol checkpoints today bear little resemblance to those authorized by the Supreme Court. Many Border Patrol officials do not understand—or simply ignore—the legal limits of their authority at checkpoints,” ACLU of Arizona Staff Attorney James Lyall said in an administrative complaint sent today to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General and Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Copies of the letter were also sent to Arizona congressional representatives, the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
This complaint details the experiences of 15 U.S. citizens, ages 6 to 69, whose constitutional rights were violated at six different Arizona checkpoints. These citizens’ experiences demonstrate clear patterns of abuse at checkpoints including prolonged, unjustified detentions and unlawful searches based on service dogs “alerting” to nonexistent contraband. In many stops, it appears immigration enforcement is only a pretext for general criminal investigations, which the Supreme Court has found unconstitutional.
“Residents often experience extended interrogation and detention not related to establishing citizenship, unwarranted searches, racial profiling, verbal harassment, and physical assault, among other abuses,” the letter said. Many of the complainants are southern Arizona residents who must routinely pass through a checkpoint to go to work, take children to school or run basic errands.
Cases of Border Patrol agent misconduct at checkpoints detailed in the complaint include:
* A Border Patrol agent pointing a gun at a driver, pulling him from his car and detaining him in handcuffs for 45 minutes after the driver declined to answer questions unrelated to citizenship;
* Border Patrol agents detaining a driver and passenger in wire cages for 45 minutes—and searching their car over their objections—after a service dog alerted to an adjacent vehicle;
* Border Patrol agents threatening and assaulting a woman for lawfully attempting to record a search of her vehicle following a false canine alert, upsetting her twin six-year-old children;
* A Border Patrol agent searching a car without consent or probable cause, threatening the driver for objecting to the search, then lying to the driver about his identity;
* Agents detaining three humanitarian aid workers solely for possessing backpacks and giving the aid workers an official Border Patrol card that misrepresents the legal basis for agents’ authority at checkpoints; and
* Border Patrol agents detaining a local resident for over an hour because her car smelled like a skunk and questioning her about her legitimate prescription medication.
All 15 individuals described in the complaint were released after prolonged detentions. None were charged with an immigration violation or crime.
“Residents of southern Arizona are increasingly outraged by Border Patrol checkpoints, and for good reason,” Lyall said in the letter.
Forty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Border Patrol checkpoints are constitutional only as long as stops are brief and involve, at most, a “limited inquiry into residence status” and a “visual inspection” of the exterior of the vehicle.
“While the Supreme Court has condoned immigration checkpoints because they were thought to impose a ‘minimal,’ non-offensive intrusion on the rights of motorists, the daily experiences of border residents profoundly undermine that premise, and by extension, the legitimacy of the checkpoints themselves,” the ACLU’s complaint states.
The complainants include several residents of Arivaca, a small town about 11 miles from the border. Residents there are currently petitioning for the removal of one of three checkpoints that surround the town, citing ongoing rights violations and harassment as well as harm to property values, tourism and quality of life. Residents describe being told by agents at the checkpoint, “You have no rights here.”
The ACLU demands that Border Patrol abuses at checkpoints in southern Arizona be investigated and the results of those investigations be made publicly available. It has been five years since the federal government last conducted a review of Border Patrol checkpoints and their impact on border communities.
The ACLU is still waiting for responses to two similar complaints: one filed on April 26, 2012, on behalf of eleven individuals abused by CBP officials at border crossings and another filed on October 9, 2013, on behalf of five Arizona residents subjected to unlawful “roving patrol” stops by Border Patrol. The ACLU believes the lack of response to widespread civil rights abuses by the nation’s largest federal law enforcement agency is symptomatic of broader oversight failures within CBP and DHS.
ACLU seeks probe of alleged abuses at Arizona border checkpoints
Reuters – January 16, 2014
By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) – A civil rights group has demanded a federal probe into the operations at U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints in Arizona, charging that agents routinely abuse their authority and violate the constitutional rights of local residents.
Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union, in a complaint, demanded an intensive review of the policies and practices that govern these checkpoint operations scattered along the roadways near the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Many Border Patrol officials do not understand – or simply ignore – the legal limits of their authority at checkpoints,” James Lyall, an attorney for the ACLU in Arizona, said in a letter on Wednesday to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General.
Among the abuses cited in the complaint were extended interrogation and detention unrelated to determining a person’s immigration status, unwarranted searches, racial profiling, verbal harassment and physical assault.
“Residents of southern Arizona are increasingly outraged by Border Patrol checkpoints, and for good reason,” the complaint said.
A spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council, which represents border agents throughout the nation, denied any wrongdoing at the checkpoints and said stops represent a minimal interruption for travelers in and around the border.
“We don’t believe that agents are purposely and routinely violating people’s constitutional rights,” said Shawn Moran, vice president of the 17,000-member group, adding that the checkpoints have been approved by U.S. courts. “That’s just not happening.”
“A lot of the concern about these checkpoints is coming from activists, and it’s the activists who are trying to provoke an incident,” he said.
The complaint outlines the experiences of 15 U.S. citizens, ages 6 to 69, who were detained at six checkpoints in Arizona after dogs alerted agents to possible contraband.
Alleged misconduct included detaining a driver and a passenger in wire cages for 45 minutes, searching their car despite objections after a canine alerted to an adjacent vehicle, and pointing a gun at a driver, pulling him from a car and detaining him for the same amount of time after he would not answer questions unrelated to citizenship.
Another complaint alleges that agents threatened and assaulted a woman after she tried to record a search of her vehicle, upsetting her 6-year-old twins.
The group charged that immigration enforcement at many of the stops appeared to be a pretext for general criminal investigations. All the individuals cited were released and none were charged with a crime, Lyall said.
Michael Friel, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the checkpoints were a critical tool in securing the nation’s borders.
“Our officers and agents are trained to recognize people and situations that present a potential threat or violation of law without regard to race,” he said in a statement, adding that his agency does not tolerate racial profiling or misconduct.