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Militarized “thugs” on the US border terrorize innocent people—and we pay their salaries

If you read one thing today, make it this piece by my ACLU colleague in Arizona on the Customs Border Protection (CBP) agency's absolute disregard for the constitutional rights of people in the Southwest. In the name of border enforcement, CBP agents are wreaking havoc on the region, terrorizing totally innocent people with complete impunity. Congress has done nothing to stop it, and neither has the executive branch that oversees CBP, a sub-agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). What's happening in the Southwest certainly has implications for the Bill of Rights, but it's more than a constitutional crisis; the situation smacks of a menacing authoritarian turn in United States federal governance.

A couple of low-lights from the piece:

Take, for example, the residents of the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation, located a few miles west of Tucson and crawling with abusive and unaccountable Border Patrol agents. Tribal members describe being accosted by agents everywhere they go—on remote desert highways, in their neighborhoods and homes, even during religious ceremonies.

The reservation is bounded on all sides by Border Patrol checkpoints like the one that ensnared Vargas. Tribal members cannot leave without having to answer to an armed federal agent. The stops are supposed to be limited to verifying citizenship but have essentially become drug interdiction checkpoints, which are technically illegal. Drug dogs often “alert” to non-existent contraband, and agents regularly demand that tribal members submit to unlawful interrogations and searches then threaten anyone who resists with arrest—or worse.

That’s what happened to 77-year-old Mildred Antone at a checkpoint on Arizona Highway 86, just east of the reservation boundary. After Mildred objected—as was her right—to an agent’s request that she open her trunk, the agent grabbed her by the arm and threatened to imprison her and tow her car.

Another Tohono O’odham woman, Ernestine Josemaria, was pulled over by a belligerent agent more than 50 miles from the border and accused of speeding. When Ernestine remarked—correctly—that Border Patrol does not have traffic enforcement authority, a group of four agents forcibly pulled her from her vehicle, twisted her arm behind her back and pushed her to the side of the road. Ernestine was detained for an hour while agents searched her truck, mocking her objections.

But there's always official redress to deal with outrageous abuses like these, right? If you go through the right channels, the powers that be will work it out and provide some justice, right? Wrong.

On Ernestine’s behalf, the ACLU submitted a complaint to the Department of Homeland Security last October. Nine months later, we are still waiting for a response. This is typical of DHS’s internal oversight. The American Immigration Council recently examined hundreds of similar complaints. DHS took no action to hold agents accountable in 97 percent of them.

The result of this lax oversight is predictable. Agents do whatever they want, without fear of being disciplined by their superiors. And that’s a real problem: No one—not Congress, not DHS, not U.S. Customs and Border Protection (Border Patrol’s parent agency and a division of DHS)—is holding agents accountable when they violate the law. Agents feed off that sense of impunity, which in turn leads to more rights violations.

Read the whole piece for more of this sickening stuff. And don't think that just because you live somewhere outside of the Southwest, you're never going to face these green shirts and their abusive disregard for the law. When something like this is left to fester, it tends to spread like a cancer.

Read more about the "constitution free zone".

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.