Editorial: Check security, and constitutional rights, at northern border

2019-08-28 | The Seattle Times

As federal border patrol efforts have intensified along the southwestern U.S. border, those activities have suffered along the 4,000-mile-long border between the United States and Canada.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents say that staffing and resource challenges have limited the focus in the region, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Significantly, the office noted even a lack of performance measurements to gauge the effectiveness of border enforcement between ports of entry.

Amid concerns, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray has asked the GAO to study the use of interior immigration checkpoints across the country, particularly regarding possible violations of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. She asked for a laundry list of data, including number of screenings, searches and apprehensions broken down by race, ethnicity and gender, details about seized property, encounters with removable subjects and apprehension of U.S. citizens, according to a letter she sent to the Comptroller General.

This would represent the first thorough, public accounting of border patrol's activities within the expansive 100-mile "border zone" which, as the American Civil Liberties Union has pointed out, includes most of the country's 10 largest cities, and the entire states of Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont. The zone dips deep into Washington state, including cities like Seattle and Spokane.

Border agents have exercised expanded authority within this zone since the 1950s, though the regulation has received renewed attention. Last fall, The Spokesman-Review reported that Border Patrol agents had apprehended more than 200 people at the Spokane Greyhound bus station since 2013, a practice city leaders say they are powerless to stop. In January, Libyan-born comic Mohanad Elshieky was detained for about 20 minutes at the Spokane station when agents questioned the validity of his Oregon driver's license and employment authorization card.

Last month Murray, with co-sponsor Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vermont, reintroduced legislation that would limit the Department of Homeland Security's ability to stop and search people inside the 100-mile border zone.

The Border Zone Reasonableness Restoration Act would amend immigration law to shrink the border zone area no more than 25 miles within an external U.S. boundary and tighten the zone for fixed interior checkpoints and border patrols' access to private lands without warrants.

Immigration authorities say internal checkpoints and apprehensions are an important component of a "layered approach" to immigration enforcement. Certainly, border security is important. But so are constitutional rights.

Moreover, given the lack of performance measurement and data, there is reason to question whether border patrol activities inside the northern border zone further national security.

Time to find out.

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