In southern New Mexico, it’s not unusual to see border patrol agents pull over an ambulance transporting a patient when the emergency transport went around a checkpoint; U.S. citizens with “very dark skin” having to show agents their passports or birth certificates; agents at “sensitive community locations” like schools and hospitals. These are just some of the complaints listed by 56 New Mexico residents, who say they were unfairly singled out for unjustified stops, questioning, searches, and were subjected to other abuses in 2014, a new American Civil Liberties Union report found.
Between January and July 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico’s Regional Center for Border Rights (RCBR) administered the survey to 334 individuals who were asked to describe recent encounters with border patrol agents.
According to the ACLU report, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have “incredible authority to stop, question and search individuals within a ‘reasonable distance’ of our international borders. Federal regulations created several decades ago and without any public debate or scrutiny defined this distance as 100 miles. Based largely on this authority, Border Patrol agents operate interior checkpoints where they require all motorists, without any suspicion of wrongdoing, to stop for questioning about their citizenship or immigration status.”
In one example from the report, a Hispanic U.S. citizen who frequently travels between West Texas and southern New Mexico “estimates that 80 percent of Border Patrol agents’ questions at interior checkpoints have nothing to do with his citizenship” and said that agents looked at his emails to confirm his destination for work. Another white U.S. citizen “feels anxious” when she travels with her 16-year-old son with a “darker complexion that reflects his father’s ethnicity.” Border Patrol and immigration agents entered the home of a lawful permanent resident to see identification and “left without giving her an explanation for the action.”
In incidents involving agents patrolling sensitive community locations, Border Patrol agents reportedly “subjected elementary school children to canine searches as they got off their school bus near a port of entry.” Near hospitals, one fire department chief reported that “agents asked to conduct a search while emergency personnel were ‘backing up to the [hospital] door with the patient still on a gurney.’” Although there is a joint agreement between the states of Chihuahua (in Mexico) and New Mexico for emergency transport to the nearest hospital in Deming, NM “for people who arrive at the port of entry with a note from the clinic in Palomas, Mexico, explaining their need for emergency care,” the RCBP noted that “ CBP officers exercise significant discretion as to whether or not to allow emergency transport.”
About 354,000 New Mexicans live within the 100-mile zone, sometimes dubbed the Constitution-free Zone because of the Border Patrol’s interior enforcement operations. ACLU reported that 60 percent of the families consider themselves Hispanic or Latino and about 50 percent speak a language other than English.
Latino residents in other states have long contended that they have been stopped more often. A 2014 study that monitored a local checkpoint in Arizona for over 100 hours and recorded 2,379 recorded vehicle stops found that Latino individuals were “26 times more likely to be to be required by the Border Patrol to identify themselves than Anglo-Saxons,” Fox News Latino reported.