By Raoul Lowery Contreras
Experienced American police officers know they usually need a signed warrant to search a house or car. Federal officers do also, but many federal searches, seizures and arrests are made without warrants.
Over 20,000 federal agents on or near the borders with Mexico and Canada can do whatever they want, including conduct strip searches and confiscate cars without warrants or even “probable cause.”
They can in spite of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment that restricts searches and seizures. They are working like their counterparts in Mexico where warrants are unnecessary.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has undeclared the war on Mexican drug cartels, diverting suspicion to everyday Mexican drivers.
Inter-cartel warfare has caused murder and violent crime rates to rise exponentially in Mexico since 2006. President Felipe Calderon ordered the Mexican Army to wage war on cartel leadership.
But the Mexican Army has now shifted to road checkpoints with squads of six deployed throughout the country. Uniformed civilian police are assigned to question drivers who soldiers randomly pull over. The soldiers and police are authorized to search all vehicles. There is no need to have probable cause, as is generally required in the United States.
However, U.S. border authorities are not bound by the Fourth Amendment. Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers do not need search warrants at the borders with Mexico and Canada or at airports where people enter the United States.
Every time I leave my house, 11 kilometers south of the border, I drive through federal toll road collection booths on the way to the United States and back. Mexican soldiers armed with M-16 assault rifles, and wearing desert camouflage and masks, have constricted the multi-lane toll plaza to one lane.
A teenage soldier looks at every stopped driver and determines if the driver needs interrogation or a search. I repeat the procedure when I return, even at night.
Utilizing my new rapid border pass that took six months to be issued and cost $125, I still have to talk to a U.S. officer and that officer may order me into secondary inspection if he decides I need to be searched. He doesn’t need a reason. There is no protection against illegal search and seizures at the border for anyone, including U.S. citizens. At the border, the procedure is exactly the same as it now is in Mexico.
A U.S. officer at the border can order a search of one’s car and a personal search, including body cavities, without any indication of a crime whatsoever. A state or local police officer, ten feet away, cannot order or conduct a similar search. If the police officer orders or conducts one, he can go to jail.
Like a Mexican soldier or federal police officer, a U.S. border officer is not bound by any law or the Constitution. He can perform a search of anyone he wants, when he wants, at the border and beyond.
In fact, the Supreme Court moved the border one hundred miles inland at the insistence of the Border Patrol. Road checkpoints miles from the border are common for the patrol.
How much American real estate away from the border is now covered by border officers?
In Southern California, the border with Mexico is 173 miles long; thus, the territory away from the border that officers can patrol amounts to 17,300 square miles. That is larger than Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.
There is a California case from 2001 that illustrates how federal border officers are shamelessly overreaching their authority.
Close to the Orange County line is a massive Border Patrol facility where officers are stationed to inspect drivers. The lanes are only covered a couple of hours a day. Ninety percent of illegal aliens processed there are brought by local authorities in Orange County; few are discovered by facility officers. It is one of the worst multi-million-dollar wastes of money in the entire United States.
On Dec. 1, 2001, a Border Patrol agent claimed he observed a Lexus speed through the facility when no officers were working the traffic lanes. He jumped into a Border Patrol car to catch the allegedly speeding Lexus. With flashing red and blue lights, the agent pulled the car over. He wrote a speeding ticket and gave it to the driver, former Congressman Darrell Issa.
What was a Border Patrol agent doing writing a speeding ticket on Interstate 5? By what authority is he allowed to enforce California traffic laws? Does he even know what California traffic laws are?
The same questions apply to local and state authorities who believe they can arrest people they “think” are in country illegally.
Was Issa’s effort to shut down the otherwise useless and expensive Border Patrol station the reason for his arrest?
When a local cop demands a driver walk a straight line and touch his nose because the cop suspects the driver is influenced by drugs or alcohol, the driver may refuse. No law demands he incriminate himself. When a cop asks to search a car, the driver can demand a judge-signed warrant.
Federal authorities must be restrained from overreaching. Illegal searches and seizures must be stopped — wherever they take place.
Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant and author of the new book White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPS) & Mexicans. His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: