In an excellent October 18, 2018 piece published in the Texas Observer and written for Harper’s Magazine, Melissa del Bosque, a Lanman Reporting Fellow with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, delivered a message of just how powerful the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is. The CBP’s formal mission is to keep the nation’s borders secure, and the top priority of that mission is to keep “terrorists and their weapons from entering the United States.”


With more than 45,000 sworn federal agents, the CBP is the largest law enforcement agency in the United States and has also been recognized as the most corrupt law enforcement agency in the nation, most notably because of its component, the Border Patrol.


Sordid History of US Border Patrol


The CBP, and the Border Patrol in particular, has a long, sordid history of human and constitutional rights abuses, functioning in a culture of violence—as del Bosque pointed out, 77 fatalities (one-fifth of whom were U.S. citizens) have been attributed to CBP’s lawless behavior since 2010.


The CBP has effectively placed two-thirds of Americans—some 200 million people—in a “police state”—a “border zone” within 100 air miles from any coastal boundary as the U.S. Justice Department defines it.


Two-Third of Americans Reside in CBP Police State


Some 38 states and nine of the nation’s ten largest cities are in this zone. The CBP has divided this zone into 20 sectors, and its agents can do anything and everything they desire to any citizen or non-citizen living or driving in one of these sectors with virtual legal impunity.


The following bullet points are drawn mostly from del Bosque’s investigation which details the extraordinary power CBP has in the police state it calls the “border zone:”


  • Unlike Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which investigates and apprehends undocumented person throughout the country, CBP’s sole responsibility is to guard the nation’s borders; to keep those borders safe from national security threats.
  • Congress has bestowed upon the CBP far more police power than any other law enforcement in the nation. For example, they have the authority to monitor all highways within the border zone and can set up “checkpoints” anywhere within that zone. They can detain and search anyone they suspect is in the country illegally or who may be smuggling any sort of contraband.
  • A CBP agent’s discretion supersedes the Fourth Amendment’s protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” They can pull people aside in a secondary inspection area at any of the nation’s 300 ports of entry and they can stop and frisk anyone on a highway within the border zone for little or no reason at all.
  • They can enter private land within 25 miles of a border without a warrant, or even the land owner’s permission.
  • The CBP operates 35 fixed “checkpoints” and roughly 175 of other non-public checkpoints deep within the border zone which are used to stop, check, inspect, and detain individuals and their vehicles for less than a nervous eyebrow tick or what the CBP agent perceives as “nervousness.”
  • In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Martinez-Fuerte held that CBP agents can stop anyone at its checkpoints across the country without cause. These are known as “suspicionless checkpoints.”
  • Beyond searching a U.S. citizen and their vehicle with its contents, CBP agents can conduct “strip searches” involving an inspection of the individual’s genitalia and rectum. If the agent still suspects the individual may have contraband inside their body, the agent can transport the individual to a local hospital where the agent can have a doctor conduct a vaginal and rectal search using a speculum or his/her hands. If still not satisfied, the agent can have the doctor administer a laxative to allow the agent to monitor the individual’s bowel movements. And if the agent is still not satisfied, they can have the doctor conduct x-rays and full body scans in an effort to locate contraband. And the individual, even when no contraband is discovered, may be billed thousands of dollars for the medical services the doctor rendered for the CBP agent.
  • In 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Montoya de Hernandez held that the detention, the cavity search and observation of a bowel movement of a Colombian woman would be justified if “customs agents, considering all the facts surrounding, the traveler and her trip, reasonably suspect that the traveler is smuggling contraband.”
  • 40 percent of all CBP’s drug seizures from U.S. citizens were for one ounce or less of marijuana; and from 2013 to 2016, checkpoints within the border zone accounted for just two percent of all the CBP’s apprehension of undocumented persons—this despite the fact that CBP interacts with 27 million people each year at these checkpoints, most of whom are American citizens.


Border Patrol Agents Violating Civil Rights


With the use of the Border Patrol’s own records, the ACLU in an October 2015 report found:


“The records contain recurring examples of Border Patrol agents detaining, searching, and terrorizing individuals and entire families at interior checkpoints and in ‘roving patrol’ vehicle stops far into the interior of the country; threatening motorists with assault rifles, electroshock weapons, and knives, destroying and confiscating personal property, and interfering with efforts to video record Border Patrol activities. They reference dozens of false alerts by Border Patrol service canines resulting in searches and detentions of innocent travelers. Above all, these documents show a near-total lack of investigation of, much less discipline for, egregious civil rights abuses; to the contrary, some records show Border Patrol tacitly or explicitly encouraging its agents to violate the law.”


President Breeds Contempt for Rule of Law


The “rule of law” does not exist within this nation’s border zone. The current president of this nation has made it more than clear that he does not respect the rule of law. He has openly and actively encouraged law enforcement officials to abuse suspects, just as he has encouraged his supporters at campaign rallies to take the law into their own hands by attacking the president’s opponents. This president has declared the nation’s borders, particularly its southern borders, exempt from the rule of law—and he not only expects but demands that CBP agents disregard human and constitutional rights in pursuit of his own racist political agenda to “secure the borders.”


This is a “police state” under any definition.