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Border Patrol Checkpoint Outside Hatch, NM
Border Patrol Checkpoint Outside Hatch, NM

Angst and Questions at the Border Patrol Checkpoint

Part one:
We pull up to the U.S.Border Patrol checkpoint east of Las Cruces. Ahead of us, a group of Hispanic men file out of the station and open the doors to their Ford Explorer. The agent asks, “Are you American citizens?”
“Yes.”
“All of you?”
I want to quip, all but the dog, but I do not think anyone will laugh.
“Where are you headed?”
I flinch, and think of Michael Swickard’s column at Heath Haussamen on NM Politics, asserting that where I am going and what I am doing is constitutionally protected information, an assertion I agree with — in theory. My husband answers easily, “Ah, up to Cloudcroft. Going camping.” The officer replies, “Nice up there. Have a good trip,” and waves us through.
“We don’t have to tell him that.”
“Tell him what?”
“Where we’re going. It doesn’t matter where we’re going as long as we’re not breaking any laws.”
“You want me to tell the border patrol that it’s none of their business? You want me to make a political statement over a camping trip?”
“Yes.”
“Fine. Next time we to through a checkpoint, if they ask, I’ll assert my constitutional rights.”
“Thank you.”

Part two:
Outside of Hatch, New Mexico, we pull up to a U.S Border Patrol checkpoint. The husband broaches the subject. “Um, are we asserting our constitutional rights here?”
I hesitate. I just want to go the Hatch Chile Festival. I do not want to be detained by border patrol. I do not even really want border patrol to be aware of my existence, vaguely viewing them in the same light as the IRS. Border patrol has real issues to deal with beyond my middle class angst about rights. Is this worth it?
“Yes. Wait, no.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Just answer whatever they ask.”
“Are you American citizens?”
“Yes.”
“All of you?”
“Yes.”
“Where are you going?”
“Just up to Hatch for the chile festival.”
“Never been up there. Here it’s a good one. See ya.”

And every part of me feels smarmy and weak. In elementary school, you do not get stickers for asking the teacher what right she has to ask you questions. You get stickers for answering the questions correctly. I still want to be the good girl, get the stickers, answer the questions right — civil liberties be damned. In addition, I want to get where I am going more than I care about making a statement. Does that consequently mean I care more about a day at the chile festival than the U.S Constitution?

I am most fearful for the country when I consider how many people are like me, people who want to go about their business without a hassle, who want to collect the stickers.

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11 comments

  1. I’ve driven through that same check point numerous times, often in camoflauge with a gun in the car on my way to hunt along the Rio Grande. They are not asking you where you are going to violate your rights. They want to see how you answer the question. Fumbling for an answer my indicate you are lying and up to no good. The BP have always been polite to me wherever I have encountered them and it’s good to know they are out there. They get so much grief from La Raza, Amnesty International, the ACLU and the rest of the wide open borders crowd, not to mention Bush, that we should show them we appreciate the hard work they do and the danger they are constantly in. Answering a few questions is not to much to ask.

  2. I just have to think that, while yes, we do have the Constitutional right not to answer questions about where we’re going or what we’re doing, we don’t have to take advantage of that right for no good reason. BP is doing their jobs by asking, and you have a choice to invoke your right to privacy or to make your day (and trip) a little easier by giving the simple, expedient answer.

    A police officer once asked me if he could look around the inside of my truck. I was running late to get my dog at the kennel and just wanted to get home. I knew I didn’t have anything illegal with me, so I said yes. He poked around opening things and shining his light. I felt violated, but I made a choice not to hang out in jail until the morning while the police got a warrant. By not invoking my Constitutional rights, I was annoyed and prickly, but on time to pick up the dog.

  3. Rebecca: I totally know what you mean. I’m a fierce civil libertarian in private and yet love cooperating with cops when it comes down to it. ychoate is right that they are engaging in an investigative technique, in which an inconsistent answer will give them probably cause to make the closer examination of you that would otherwise be illegal (unless they can prove they selected you randomly). It’s how my Coast Guard cutter interrupted a plot to, allegedly, assassinate Fidel Castro (I know, darn) in 1997: the boat we were talking to said they’d been in Miami, 900 miles away, the night before. So when we went on board, we were allowed to do more than check safety equipment (which would otherwise have been our only other legal justification for boarding them). http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C00E6DB1631F936A35756C0A96E958260

    But, ychoate, while I sympathize with your desire/need to get somewhere on time, I must disagree with the actions you took. Answering a cop’s questions is one thing, but allowing them to “look around” your vehicle — something law enforcement requests more and more often these days, I hear — strikes me as helping to erode a very basic and important right. That said, I can’t swear that I would be able to say no under the same circumstances. We do come to love the boot on our necks…

  4. Cops asking to “inspect” my rig have always been denied. It’s an old hippie van so I know they’re trolling. I always try to be as courteous as possible, but the answer is always no, and the language is always high and proper English. Out of many occasions, only once was there a search against my wishes, which resulted in retention of an attorney and a token settlement. Helping my case was the fact I grabbed my camera and took a few images.
    Understand that terrorism is not an American phenomenon because, in theory, citizens have avenues of redress and recourse that do not involve acts of clandestine mayhem. Search-and-seize societies DO have a terrorism problem.
    We would not have to have BP road inspection stations if the border were secure…imagine that.

  5. I have worked as a courier around the border for many years and pass through this checkpoint and others on a daily basis. While the bp are generally courteous, I have had many unsettling experiences with them, including several searches of my vehicle. Basically they do whatever they want when it comes to searches near the border, including randomly pulling over vehicles traveling near the border. Personally, I think these checkpoints are a joke-how many miles away from the border are they? Anybody who is familiar with their locations can avoid them by taking a different route. I support law enforcement and am always cooperative, however the bp seems to operate with a different set of rules (not the constitution) and I feel the organization is about as un-american as it gets. Are they stopping illegal immigration? No…Drug smuggling? No.. What are they good for? They are tremendously corrupt, violate our rights , and costs many, many taxpayer dollars.

  6. Just lie you moron it’s not that hard

  7. james hit the nail on the head. I totally agree with you.

  8. Well actually being within 100 miles of the border is special zone of America where they can search you and don’t need to follow the constitution.

  9. everytime i pass this border they all ways ask me like 20 question like where im i going how long im i staying for and what im i gonna do over there a bunch of stuff like that is it because im young im 21 and every time i pass this border they always do this to me its not fair next time im gonna say none of your business.

  10. As a commercial vehicle driver I have the oppertunity to cross several check points every day. Most being weigh stations and commercial vehicle check points. None of which are as demeaning to a Native American, as those run by the US Border Patrol. My co workers and I have been witness to Heaviley armed BP Agents being air lifted to hastily thrown up check points all along the border on two lane state and county roads.
    Between the dogs the agents and thier war like demeanor it’s not a wonder that some weak indivuidals wouldn’t give thier last dime to escape the questioning and searches conducted at these check points.
    I ‘m just one guy and an old one at that but I kinda remember when we could travel in our own country without the fear of being stopped and having our civil rights STOMPED all over.
    I never answer questions that is of no bussiness of the BP. I never let them search the vehicle I am driving and I never get out just to be cooperative, (a word they seem to like alot)
    It makes me mad that a badge wearing gun toting indivuidal that claims English as a second language is asking me If I am a US citizen, where I came from, where I’m going and would I consent to a vehicle search.
    Nancy Reagan said it best when she uttered these three little words, ” JUST SAY NO ” this is still the United States of Americia, I think. Stand up for yourselfs and to those that won’t because you just want to move on I say to those. Don’t cry when you have no rights left, then tell your children why they have no any rights. either
    The people of this nation has fought all over the world to protect the rights and the freedom we enjoy, so stand up and have some courage, fight for your rights that seem to sliding away a little at a time. There may be a time coming when you have to show your travel papers just to go to the local market.

  11. I decided about a year ago I wasn’t going to tell them anything at BP checkpoints, other than my citizenship. First time through the White Sands check point, I was never asked my citizenship. The officer asked me, “where are you headed?”, I responded “I am an American citizen”, he responded, “I am going to look in the back of your truck” he stepped back, l peered at the back of my truck, immediately stepped back to my window, and said “where did you say you were going?” I responded “I am an American citizen” he then cracked a hint of a smile, and said “have a nice day”. I came through the same checkpoint a couple of hours ago. Officer asked my citizenship, then asked where I lived? I responded, “what’s that got to do with anything?” that was the end of it!