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Activists Defying Border Patrol Agents at Southern State Checkpoints

An “informal alliance of people, possibly into the hundreds,” have begun to video incidents that appear to show individuals deliberately defying to comply with Border Patrol agents’ questions and directions at inland Border Patrol checkpoints in Southwest border states, the Houston Chronicle recently reported.

These individuals, the newspaper reported, “appear to be making a stand for what they say are their rights and contend that the government, which has long drawn support for doing whatever is needed to protect the nation’s borders, is going too far.”

“Determining how widespread the videotaping has become is difficult to determine, but they are well-known among border activists, academics, lawyers and law-enforcement officers from Texas to California. Hundreds of such videos are posted online, and they are drawing millions of viewers,” the newspaper reported.

The article was accompanied by a video taken by a truck driver identified as driving a SWIFT Transportation truck who appears to have purposely intended to defy Border Patrol agents at one of the checkpoints. The driver refused to answer a Border Patrol agent’s questions, including whether he was a US citizen and other routine questions Border Patrol agents ask drivers at the checkpoints. The individual also claimed the checkpoints and questioning is illegal.

SWIFT Transportation did not respond to a request for comment on whether they took disciplinary measures against the driver.

“The US Border Patrol operates 136 Border Patrol stations and 35 permanent checkpoints,” some of which are 100 miles inland from the US-Mexico border, such as checkpoints between the Nogales, Arizona Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Port of Entry and Tucson, and between El Paso, Texas and Los Cruces, New Mexico. These checkpoints have been in existence for decades.

“The Border Patrol carefully selects checkpoint locations to maximize border enforcement while minimizing the burden on law-abiding travelers and the effect on traffic. Checkpoints have proven to be highly effective in halting smuggling into the interior of the US,” a CBP spokesman told Homeland Security Today.

Continuing, the spokesman said, “US Customs and Border Protection uses a multi-tiered strategy including checkpoint operations. The use of checkpoints aims to interdict all threats to border security, when those threats are attempting to travel further into the US. Cooperation at the US Border Patrol’s checkpoints is appreciated and expedites the process, minimizing inconvenience to the traveling public and allows the agents to focus on law breakers.”

The spokesman said, “Border Patrol agents may lawfully question the occupants about their citizenship and place of birth, and may request document proof of immigration status and how an individual’s legal status was obtained. It is not unusual for Border Patrol agents at checkpoints to engage in conversations with the public regarding their travels. Brief questions to dispel concerns are intended to resolve issues with minimum disruption.”

Although “the Border Patrol’s immigration checkpoints do not give Border Patrol agents automatic authority to search individuals and their vehicles,” the spokesman said, he noted that, “Under the US Constitution and as upheld by the US Supreme Court, CBP maintains the authority to refer individuals and their vehicles for further immigration inspection. Motorists may also consent to a search.”

The checkpoints serve a number of purposes, in particular to confirm that people are legally in the United States and to interdict contraband, such as the tons of smuggled drugs annually found in vehicles stopped at the checkpoints.

CBP said it didn’t have statistics on how many people who fail to comply at these checkpoints are detained, but Border Patrol agents told Homeland Security Today on background that such incidents “have been increasing,” as one said, adding that it appears “there’s a community of activists out there who deliberately set out to” provoke and defy agents’ directions at checkpoints.

Joe Adam Vega, 25, entered a guilty plea to two counts of impeding Border Patrol agents at the Border Patrol checkpoint just north of Laredo for refusing to comply with instructions. According to court records and statements, Vega arrived at the checkpoint on July 29, 2014 whereupon Border Patrol agents directed Vega to move away from the primary inspection lane and drive to the secondary inspection area after a canine had alerted to the presence of drugs or hidden persons in the vehicle’s trunk. He refused.

He was ordered to move several times by the agent and a supervising agent. He continued to refuse. He said he wanted to go on his way without permitting the additional inspections. Agents warned him that he would be arrested for violations of impeding federal officers if he did not move as directed. He again insisted that he wanted to drive away without inspection.

His passenger locked the driver’s door and attempted to roll up the car’s windows. Agents forcibly removed both occupants from the vehicle and arrested them.

In October 2014, Michael Sophin of El Paso, Texas was charged and sentenced to 8 months in prison for “intransit high speed flight from immigration checkpoint” after resisting a Border Patrol agent near the west Texas town Sierra Blanca after he said he did not have to discuss his citizenship and drove away before questioning was finished. He was chased down Interstate 10 and arrested.

Another man was sentenced to two years of misdemeanor probation last year for refusing to move his vehicle from a primary traffic lane into a secondary inspection area and then struggling with Border Patrol agents trying to pull him out of his vehicle and put him into a holding cell, according to court papers. This followed the man having told agents he was exercising his right not to declare his citizenship.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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