Privacy SOS

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The US government defines the “border” as a 100-mile-wide strip around the perimeter of the country. A full two-thirds of the population of the US – 197.4 million people – live within 100 miles of the country’s coastal and land borders. Nine of the ten latest metropolitan regions in the country are located in this 100-mile-wide zone and by some calculations, it contains 12 entire states, Massachusetts among them.

Constitutional rights do not apply at the actual border where you can be arbitrarily searched by the Border Patrol, subjected to intrusive questions and detained without reasonable suspicion that you have done something wrong.

Since it took on responsibility for hunting down terrorists as well as undocumented immigrants, the Border Patrol is acting as if it has the same broad powers to dispense with constitutional protections in the entire 100-mile-wide perimeter zone. Checkpoints have appeared tens of miles from the borders.   

During the decades of the “war on drugs,” law enforcement officials have from time to time searched passengers using public transport for contraband. Now armed Border Patrol agents board buses and trains and demand documents from travelers who look like they might be immigrants or seem suspicious for some reason. They frequently arrest people who cannot on the spot produce documents demonstrating their right to be in the country, including many American citizens. According to Nina Bernstein writing in the August 29, 2010 New York Times (“Border Sweeps in North Reach Miles into U.S.”) some 2788 people have been arrested in the Rochester area alone. 

Non citizens who are arrested within and outside the ‘Constitution-Free Zone’ are more vulnerable to to deportation under an automatic biometric fingerprint sharing program misleadingly termed ‘Secure Communities.’ Billed as a way of removing violent criminals from the country who are threats to public safety, it has resulted in the deportation of tens of thousands of people without any criminal convictions.  

© 2023 ACLU of Massachusetts.