ACLU Demands Border Patrol Respect Citizens’ Right to Record
Then came the surveillance towers that began monitoring the activities of the residents of Arivaca, a town of less than 1,000 people about 25 miles from the Mexican border.
Then came more checkpoints. And helicopters. And drones.
And finally came the realization that the temporary checkpoint set up seven years ago was not going anywhere, forcing the town’s residents to drive through it on a daily basis as they went about their business.
So last year, the residents fileda petition against the Border Patrol, asking them to remove the checkpoints and reduce the militarization of their town, which, of course, was ignored on the basis that they were needed to keep our country safe from the evil-doers.
Not that the Border Patrol would release any actual figures on people they have arrested or drugs they have seized in those particular checkpoints.
So the residents decided to monitor the checkpoints with their cameras in an attempt to document just how many arrests they make.
And you can guess what happened after that.
They started monitoring the checkpoint on February 26th. About five or six checkpoint monitors in yellow vests, with video cameras and notebooks—as well as about two dozen supporters—went out to protest and monitor the checkpoint. Local media and the LA Times coveredthe event.
So they arrived at the checkpoint on foot, and set up near the secondary inspection area, where Border Patrol agents sometimes ask people to pull over to have their car searched. And they began to picket and to video record and document agents’ interactions with motorists. Border Patrol agents approached them and told them they couldn’t be there, giving a variety of vague and inconsistent reasons: that Border Patrol had a permit, that they had exclusive authority within this area. The Sheriff came and just asked them to go across the street, which they did. But shortly after the Sheriff left, Border Patrol said “you have to move 100 feet back that way or we’re going to arrest you.” So under threat of arrest they were forced to move quite a ways away from the checkpoint, behind a hastily constructed barricade, where they couldn’t really see or record what was going on.
A few days later, they came back, and Border Patrol had set up “No Pedestrian” signs and more barriers and rope blocking the public right of way. Border Patrol is now claiming that this public roadway is their exclusive zone of authority and there are no pedestrians allowed. They also parked their vehicles right behind the barrier to further obstruct view of the photographers and protesters. On one occasion, they left a Border Patrol vehicle running for several hours, blowing exhaust in the faces of the monitors to try to make them go away. They also allowed Border Patrol supporters—but not the monitors—to set up inside the new “enforcement zone.” That’s a pretty good example of something called “viewpoint discrimination,” and it’s unconstitutional.
Border Patrol has no authority to come into this community and say “this is ours now and you have to stand 150 feet away behind our cars that are parked there so you can’t see what we’re doing to your neighbors.” This is no different than any other police checkpoint, where courts have been very clear that law enforcement can’t unreasonably restrict First Amendment rights of protesters andphotographers, much less retaliate against people for exercising those rights. And courts have repeatedly said that a public roadside like this is “the archetype of a traditional public forum,” where the government’s ability to restrict speech for any reason is tightly curtailed.
So now, on top of all the abuses this community has had to face from Border Patrol, agents are violating residents’ fundamental First Amendment free speech rights as well—the right to protest a checkpoint that has profoundly negative impacts on their daily lives, and the right to video record an agency that is known for routine rights abuses of residents. I don’t think there could be any clearer demonstration of the Border Patrol’s lack of public accountability and transparency: instead of addressing the rights violations and the community’s concerns, they’re literally barring the residents of Arivaca from seeing what these armed federal agents are doing to their friends, family, and neighbors—in their own community.
The Arivaca story is not isolated as the Border Patrol has an estimated 170 checkpoints throughout the country, forcing citizens to have to declare their citizenship or face detainment and worse as we’ve seen with many Youtube videos over the years.
And more checkpoints are being planned, including in New England and throughout the north in an apparent attempt to crackdown on cagey Canadians trying to sneak into our country.
The ACLU explains the history behind the checkpoints:
These interior checkpoints are in part the result of decades-old regulations giving Border Patrol authority to operate within a “reasonable distance” of the border. That distance was defined in federal regulations in the 1950’s —with no public comment or debate, and at a time when the Border Patrol comprised fewer than 1,100 agents—as 100 miles from any external boundary of the U.S. That area that now encompasses roughly two-thirds of the U.S. population, nine of the ten largest cities, and the entirety of ten states. The law also gives Border Patrol authority to enter private lands within 25 miles of the border.
In practice, however, Border Patrol often goes even further into the interior. In 2008, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was stopped at a checkpoint 125 miles from the Canadian border, one of many examples of agents disregarding the geographic and legal limits on their authority. Many are also surprised to learn that Border Patrol operates checkpoints in northern states too, and that even more could be on the way: a recent ACLU Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request revealed design plans for permanent Border Patrol checkpoints on southbound New England highways.
Check out the video below from the site, People Helping People, which is the organization Arivaca residents created to fight back against the Border Patrol. Click on the link to see more photos and videos and get more background.