Border Patrol Tactics in Question

By Gil Potts

The American Civil Liberties Union has recently filed complaints with the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection over an increasing number of complaints regarding rights violations allegedly occurring at various Border Patrol Checkpoints.

The ACLU is one of several organizations and individuals supposedly suing the Border Patrol over alleged checkpoint rights infringements.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, it is “The unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation’s borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.”

Late last month, Jennifer Weaver was shocked when a border patrol agent at the checkpoint on U.S. 67 south of Marfa, told her his dog had “alerted” on her pickup truck. She was ordered to pull over to the inspection area. She answered the agent’s questions, but when she replied that, “yes,” she had two pistols in her glove compartment and a concealed handgun license in her purse, “the stop turned ugly.”

Agents ordered her out of her truck and forced her to the ground. They repeatedly searched her vehicle and performed weapons checks on the two legally owned pistols in her glove box. About an hour later, she was told she was free to leave.

“I knew there was nothing in my truck of interest to anyone,” said Weaver, a disabled schoolteacher.

Weaver, who uses a walker because of severe injuries from a car accident, said the second time she was stopped by the Border Patrol, she tried to explain to the agents that she couldn’t stand or walk without her walker, which was in the bed of her truck.

After being wrestled out of the vehicle, searched and held again, she said the agents told her their dog had “alerted” to a bottle of prescription painkillers.

Weaver said she feels targeted for carrying a gun and for filing a complaint. “I’ve never been arrested in my life,” she said. “I filed a complaint, but they don’t promise any remedy. I feel they just treat everybody like a criminal.

Bill Brooks, spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Big Bend, Texas Sector, responded, “We’re satisfied that our agents operated properly. They were courteous to her; they provided her with the information she needed to file a complaint. There wasn’t anything done by our agents that was out of line.”

The Border Patrol operates checkpoints on most every major road or highway in the U.S. leading away from the border, in some cases up to 100 miles from the southern and northern U.S. borders. 

Presumably, these checkpoints are meant primarily to check the immigration status of those who pass through them.  Critics however, including the ACLU, charge that the checkpoints have become an intrusive catch-all for general law enforcement, and that they subject travelers who pass through them to harassment and unconstitutional search and seizure.

Surprisingly, Customs and Border Protection leaders have themselves raised questions about the checkpoints.

In a recent interview with the Arizona Republic, CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, defended the checkpoints as valuable, though he said he, too, has had questions about them.

“When I took this job in March of last year,” he said, “I did not know much about checkpoints. And frankly, I’ll tell you, I was a little curious as to, OK, how far away from the border are they? And why are they there? And are we really getting much benefit from them? And I heard complaints. I have looked at this, and I am continuing to look at this much more in depth.” 

But Kerlikowske also said he doesn’t see any need to change how the checkpoints operate at this time.

“There are a number of cases that have been filed regarding the checkpoints, and I think it depends on where these cases go and at what level within the court system they’ll actually be settled,” he said.

In a 1976 ruling, U.S. vs. Martinez-Fuentes, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Border Patrol’s authority to operate checkpoints away from the border to verify residency status. But the court said questions at interior checkpoints must be brief, minimally intrusive and focused on immigration status. Any “further detention … must be based on consent or probable cause.”

“But things are very different, too, in many ways, than in 1976,” he added, reiterating that the checkpoints “are very helpful.”

The use of interior checkpoints expanded dramatically after 9/11.

The Border Patrol acknowledges operating 35 “permanent” checkpoints within the U.S., but also operates numerous “tactical,” or nominally temporary checkpoints at various locations.

Agency documents indicate a capacity to operate up to 200 checkpoints.

Referring to the 1976 Martinez-Fuentes ruling, “Probable cause can be a fuzzy standard,” said James Duff Lyall, an ACLU attorney in Tucson.

“I get checkpoint related complaints on a regular basis,” Lyall said. But, he added, “as long as they say their primary purpose is immigration related, it’s hard to challenge even if it is mostly about drugs.”

Most often, checkpoint encounters go smoothly for travelers and agents alike, but they are serious business and can potentially lead to serious consequences.  Agents have been shot at and occasionally have to dodge an errant driver.  In the last three years, three people have been killed after running through Border Patrol interior checkpoints.

In the most recent incident, on Jan. 22, 2015, Border Patrol agents shot and killed a 25-year-old man the FBI identified as Tiano Meton, after he allegedly failed to stop at the checkpoint on I 10 near Sierra Blanca, Texas.

At the time of this writing, Meton’s nationality and other details of the event had not been released do to the ongoing investigation.

In related border news, CBP officers at the Brownsville port of entry intercepted an alleged load of liquid methamphetamine. The officers discovered the alleged narcotics, valued at approximately $81,967, hidden within baggage belonging to a pedestrian.

“Our frontline CBP officers’ attentiveness led to this seizure and arrest. These dangerous drugs will not reach this smuggler’s intended destination thanks in large part to our officers’ commitment to our mission,” said CBP Port Director Petra Horne, Brownsville Port of Entry.

The CBP’s Brownsville Port of Entry is part of the South Texas Campaign, which leverages federal, state and local resources to combat transnational criminal organizations.

1 COMMENT

  1. In April of 2016 a young girl was preparing to make a 10,000 mile journey across the globe to finally be united after a long wait to marry her fiancé in the U.S.
    She just received her fiancé k1 visa after a 12 month wait. They communicated with each other for a year and a half every single day over Skype. With her newly born excitement she quit her job, gave away some of her possessions and departed for the airport. There was not much to go back to as a new life would begin with the man she fell in love with in the U.S.
    Little did she know she would never arrive to her final destination as she would be turned away by the U.S. government Gestapo border squad called the CBP.

    Background of the CBP: Customs and Border Protection is the trial, Judge and jury of the U.S. Government policing our vulnerable border entry points.
    With more than 60,000 employees, CBP is one of the world’s largest law enforcement organizations and is charged with keeping terrorists and their weapons from entering the U.S. borders, while also validating travelers from committing travel fraud. The agency was granted its full power in 1996, when the U.S. Congress with President Clinton gave them the authority to remove any traveler or migrant they see fit from the United States and without the need for a hearing before an immigration judge.
    In addition to the removal they can also make an arrest.
    A criminal fraud statute provides for sanctions to those presenting false information to customs officers, with violators facing a maximum of 2 years imprisonment, or a $5,000 fine, or both, for each violation involving an importation or attempted importation.
    With millions passing through our borders it is their job to make sure terrorists, smugglers, & criminals don’t make it into our country.

    Our encounter with the CBP is an unfortunate event and not unique as countless others have experienced similar problems that have been reported and many more that have gone unreported by travelers.
    While traveling to the Philippines in January of 2015 I was lucky to have met the woman I would spend the rest of my life with. Returning home 30 days later, I immediately had her file an application for a tourist visa to come visit me in the U.S. But the process was taking too long and I proposed we marry instead. Within a few weeks I filed for the K1 Fiancé visa.
    This changed our status from friends to fiancé locking us into a marriage contract built by love. During the long waiting period I had returned 2 more times each visit for 30 days giving us more time to know each other better & develop a stronger relationship.
    As soon as she arrived at LAX airport the CBP brought her in for interrogation. It was unexpected since she already was meticulously examined and interviewed by the U.S. Embassy in Manila.
    Later they would hint something in her file made the CBP suspicious about her fiancé entry request.
    After the basic kindergarten questions a cold female CBP officer asked her if she could recognize a picture of my 1st ex-wife from 25 years ago. She couldn’t answer the question because I didn’t have any pictures of my ex-wife from 25yrs ago and didn’t discuss many details about that relationship. Later I would find out the picture they showed her was not my ex-wife but an unknown woman who was never identified.
    This made the CBP officer more suspicious and told her your fiancé is still married and living with his prior ex-wife. A fabricated lie from the officer because in reality this divorced ex-wife was not living in the USA and moved to Russia some time ago to live with her family.
    But since her mailing address was still registered with the DMV as my mailing address made the CBP officer more suspicious. Then the officer asked if she had a contract to come work for me as a domestic helper. When she told her no, the officer called out loud, “you’re lying”! And continued with her suspicions accusations to say you are coming to the U.S to find a job then divorce or leave your fiancé and bring your daughter here.
    When the CBP officer heard her state no it’s not true she yelled at her, “you’re a liar”.
    The overall aggressive behavior started to make this poor naïve girl worry these officers can hurt her, as in her country when the gov’t officials bring you in they can do as they please and a young girl will have no recourse.

    After more screaming and accusations to break her down the CBP officer stated you have committed fraud to enter the U.S. on a fiancé visa as we have found you’re arrival here for the intent of employment. As they prepared her paperwork to return her back to the Philippines they placed her in a locked room and prepared her removal paperwork. She would ask if she could call her fiancé, family, or embassy and was denied any communications. In their custody they held her cell phone where they could of observed all the hundreds of pictures of the 2 of us together, and the everyday Skype chats which could of also confirm our marriage bond. But they refused for some reason to see or report the truth. We also made a video of us together during my 2nd visit to the Philippines but this would never have a chance to help the situation.
    When they brought her back into the interrogation room it was basically over for her at this point. Now the CBP officers needed to wrap this case up & get their scorecard brightened up, maybe for their next promotion.

    The intimidating CBP officer in a threatening manner would tell her I can pick up the phone and put you in jail for 5yrs for lying & committing fraud. But the law actually states it’s a 2 year sentence and not 5. Perhaps the officer forgot to read her manual.
    She held a bunch of papers and said if you just want to go home I need you to sign these papers. Without explanation of what these papers were or allowing her anytime to review these papers the poor girl frightened by the officer & fearing she may never see her family again signed the pages blindly to end the torture.
    After she signed she realized a big mistake was made when the officer told her you cannot come back to the U.S. for the next 5yrs.
    To make the matter even worst, signed copies of the officer Sworn Statement and expedited removal forms where never placed inside a small yellow envelope she received from the airline upon landing in her home country.
    It seemed these papers were deliberately omitted by the officer to further hide her actions and deter any future complaints.

    It took over a month for me to finally obtain copies of these documents from the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA which included the questions and answers they wrote on her behalf. She tried to call from Philippines many times to the CBP office at LAX but was never connected to a supervisor to request the copies of the missing papers that we needed to review and understand why they returned her home.
    When I received the final copy with her initials and signatures I was shocked by the computer typed answers next to each question.

    Immediately after her deportation I was devastated by the news and immediately sought legal counsel as I changed my schedule to leave the U.S. and be with her during this tragic time.
    I searched on-line for answers and guidance where I found contact information for the CBP complaint dept in Washington D.C. When I phoned them I was relieved to speak with someone that was sympathetic to my situation.
    I was directed to complete certain complaint forms and obtain releases which I did and uploaded all the information to their investigative dept.
    There 1st reply to me requested I send them the officers statement which we did not have at the time and were not aware these forms were supposed to be provided. I replied she never received these forms and the CBP complaint dept told me they cannot do any investigation without this form. They also did not believe she was not provided copies of these forms at deportation and suspected her of concealing or lying about the forms. I could not understand how the head dept. of the CBP could not pull up these forms themselves.
    It took more than 30 days of persistent attempts to obtain these forms as the CBP refused to release them for unknown reasons.
    When I finally sent the CBP complaint dept. the obtained forms I felt relieved that action would finally take place.
    But in fact nothing would happen except lost time in waiting. I was told there was nothing they could do. They had sent my information to the CBP California branch but nothing would ever come of it.
    I was praying my hired attorney would be able to get better results from them. But they also ignored his letters and the letters from a local congresswoman as well. Only after about 4 months a response from the CBP was issued.
    It was a stock template letter that had gibberish in it regarding examples of how to provide economic ties to their place of residence. It stated what ties where, “”Ties” are the various aspects of a person’s life that bind him or her to his or her country or residence and are categorized by one’s possessions, employment, and social and family relationships.”
    This had absolutely nothing to do with our case and was further proof how the CBP did nothing to investigate the complaint and their arresting officer’s abusive actions.
    Now let me highlight some of the CBP officer’s action regarding her sworn statement form.
    Q. “Did you sign up for the website so you could find an American husband?”
    A. I signed up to find a husband not specifically and American husband.

    Q. Why did Mr. ______ list himself as your friend under your U.S contact on the B1/B2 visa application and not as your boyfriend?
    A. The application was filed before the Fiance visa petition began. The officer took this as part of her fraud suspicion to assume there was no intimate relationship.

    Q. Is it your intention to marry Mr. DEGEN only to bring your daughter so that you both can live in the u.s. legally?
    A: Yes. (The CBP officer interpreted this question as part of the sole purpose of her arrival. Strictly coming for the purpose of bringing her daughter to the U.S.)

    Q. Were you coming to the u.s to be a domestic employee for Mr. DEGEN and his ex-wife, who is living with him at this time?
    A. Yes, ma’am. (I freaked when I saw this, but she swore she never gave the Yes answer and it was the CBP officer who falsely wrote her own answer and not the one given)

    Q. How much money did Mr. ____ offer you?
    A: I don’t understand. I will work for him and for myself. (She replied “I don’t understand because she already told her “I am not coming to be a domestic employee. And if I don’t have enough money I can always get a job.” )

    Q: Were you going to work for free?
    A: No, he was going to pay me but I am not sure how much (My fiancé NEVER said No to this question & never said “he was going to pay me”, this statement is UNTRUE! This question was never asked and the answer was fabricated by the officer)

    Q: Did he give you details of when he was married and why he divorced his prior wife’s?
    A: No ma’am.( The officer did not say prior wife, officer said 1st wife from 25 yrs ago which she did not have the information. I assumed this question would further enforce the CBP’s suspicions of a fraudulent relationship)

    Before the interrogation began the CBP officer advise her the session will be recorded. But I was never able to obtain this recording and kept calling the complaint dept. asking them to review the recording with her actual given answers.
    I still do not understand the role of the CBP complaint dept. in Washington. If my complaint was dismissed then what is their purpose or role?
    Finally to get rid of my nagging they suggested I file a redress complaint with Homeland security.
    This is the only real help I received as I quickly learned the Dept. of Homeland Security investigates wrongful entry denial issues.
    After filing another complaint and sending them all the forms, notarized statements, and proof we were put on a waiting list for an investigation.
    This again is no quick process, after 100 day wait I was told they will start and come to a resolution within the next 30 days.

    The CBP is a large enforcement group with many good dedicated officers making sure our country remains protected from the bad people. It’s a shame there are some who do not follow the U.S. laws, procedures, and guidelines as we came into contact with one of their bad apples.
    It’s a further shame the bureaucracy and incompetence of the CBP to enforce and follow through complaints is discarded into the unknown.

    We have waited so long to be together and now precious time we could use is being lost that we will never recover.
    This has caused an emotional & financial strain on my life with unexpected, legal & travel expenses, loss of work, and loss of health. To date my fiancé is unable to be re-employed after quitting her job.
    A situation such as this should never have to happen for anyone abiding honestly by the immigration laws.

    I would advise everyone to stay away at all costs from CBP officer’s Lorraine Tapia and officer Lau stationed at LAX airport. You should avoid confrontation with them if possible.

    Finally after a long 5 month wait I received a response from DHS redress dept. My hopes for a proper investigative resolution were shattered upon the receipt of the letter. This was another boiler plate response with an added paragraph stating the CBP would also send me a letter shortly and the case was closed by DHS without any positive conclusions.
    Next day the CBP letter came with a paragraph describing the duties of the CBP and a reason why my fiancé had been deported. But all my complaints were ignored and not identified in either letter.
    I realized dealing with the government and bringing the injustice to the surface was just a waste of time. My complaint was ignored and the officers’ cruel behavior was covered up by the officials. Our future we had planned and waited for so long was destroyed. The only option now was to start a new plan from the beginning and try again, meanwhile losing another 1 to 2 years of waiting while being separated.