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Checkpoint Tyranny along the Border

DEAFifteen years ago, I published an article entitled “Domestic Passports for Hispanic-Americans,” in which I described immigration checkpoint tyranny in America’s borderlands with Mexico. Americans who have never traveled to the border have no idea of the police state that the ICE and the DEA have established in the border regions.

My hometown of Laredo, Texas, is situated right on the Rio Grande, which is the border between Mexico and the United States in that part of the country. On the other side of the river is Nuevo Laredo, an enormous city on the Mexican side of the border. The downtowns of both cities are connected with international bridges that cross the Rio Grande.

When a person crosses the bridge from Mexico into Laredo, he encounters an enormous permanent immigration and customs checkpoint manned by dozens of officials. The driver rolls down his window and an officer asks him and the passengers, “Are you an American citizen? Are you bringing anything back from Mexico?” Oftentimes, they ask you to open your trunk for inspection. If everything is all right, they wave you through. If they have suspicions about you, they will direct you to a secondary lane for closer inspection by another team of officers.

When I was growing up, I often went across the river with friends or family. Most everybody in Laredo did. The immigration checkpoint at the bridge was an established way of life. No one questioned it. The mindset was that if you travelled into Mexico, it was just considered normal for government officials to question you on your return.

Now, consider this: When a person traveling north from Laredo on IH35 is about 40 miles or so north of the city, he goes over the crest of a hill and encounters an amazing sight. He sees a permanent immigration checkpoint ahead. It’s actually surreal because the first thing that enters your mind is that you’re in Mexico and approaching the U.S. border. But no, the check point is inside the United States—40 miles or so inside the United States.

If you cross the median of the Interstate and turn around to return to Laredo, a Border Patrol officer will quickly jump into his car and come after you. Once you’ve gone over the crest of the hill, there is no turning back. When you get there, you’re subjected to the same treatment as people who are crossing from Mexico into the United States. They ask you your citizenship and sometimes ask to search your vehicle. If you’re dark-skinned, they might ask to see your papers and if you are unable to produce them, you might well be turned back or even arrested.

The situation is no different at the Laredo airport. People traveling from Laredo to parts north are subjected to questioning by a Border Patrol official.

Now, keep in mind that people are subjected to these stops even though they have not traveled into Mexico. That is, every Laredoan and every visitor to Laredo who hasn’t crossed into Mexico is nonetheless subjected to these stops and examinations when he heads north.

Most people have come to accept these checkpoints as part of life on the border. Since they have been born and raised under this system, they honestly think that it’s part of what living in a free society is all about.

Several years ago, I was traveling in Cuba, which, as everyone knows, is a communist, totalitarian country. One day, I took a taxi from Havana to a town about 7 hours away. When I got there, there were no hotels in the town but people would rent rooms in their houses to travelers. When I attempted to rent a room, the landlord asked to see my passport. Her facial expression immediately turned to fear and concern when I told her that I had forgotten it back in Havana. She told me that she could not rent me a room without seeing my papers. More ominously, she told me that if I returned to Havana by car, I would have to pass through official checkpoints on the highway wherein state officials would ask to see my papers. She said they would definitely jail me on my failure to show my papers.  She finally accepted a bribe to enable me to stay in her house and falsified the check-in form I was required to fill out.

That’s the way things are in totalitarian countries. What all too many Americans fail to understand is that the immigration checkpoints along the border are, in principle, no different from those in Cuba, North Korea, and other totalitarian countries. The only difference is that the person who is asking to see your papers has an American flag on his uniform as compared to a Cuban, North Korean, or other communist flag on it.

Interestingly, there are an increasing number of people who are engaging in civil disobedience at these Soviet-style checkpoints by refusing to answer whether they are American citizens, by refusing to open the trunks of their cars, and by refusing to drive their cars to a secondary lane, thereby blocking traffic behind them. They are also videotaping these encounters and posting them on YouTube. Here’s an example:

Recently, a libertarian from Laredo, Guillermo Jimenez, who has a website and a radio show entitled Traces of Reality, posted his own video encounter with the immigration checkpoint north of Laredo:

I recently appeared as a guest on Jimenez’s show and it was a great experience, especially since we both are libertarians from Laredo and, therefore, have a mutual distaste for immigration tyranny. His analysis of this subject is worth taking a look at: “Challenging Border Patrol.”

Recently the local television station in Laredo, KGNS Pro 8 News, carried a news commentary on the civil disobedience that people are committing at the immigration checkpoints. What’s fascinating about the story is how it reveals the passive, submissive mindset of people who are born and raised under a tyrannical system and who are inculcated with the notion that all this is a normal part of living in a “free” society. Watch the newscaster and the people she interviews and you’ll see their reaction to people who are refusing to cooperate at the immigration checkpoints. They obviously think it is bizarre that people would resist cooperating with the officials at those checkpoints. Such people epitomize the “good, little citizens” who are molded in America’s public schools—the citizens who reflect the words of the great German thinker Johann von Goethe: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”

Now, mind you, I’m not suggesting that people engage in civil disobedience at these immigration checkpoints. Civil disobedience is a dangerous game, and each person must decide for himself whether to cross that line. The immigration officials might not simply let a resisting driver pass through. They might instead drag him out of his car and beat him up, as the following video shows:

But someone doesn’t necessarily have to engage in civil disobedience to oppose government wrongdoing. He can at least take a moral stand against it, whether it be torture, assassination, the drug war, Soviet-style checkpoints, wars of aggression, kidnappings, rendition, or other things on the dark side.

The problem is that given that virtually all Americans have now been born and raised in a welfare-warfare state and, even worse, inculcated with a mindset that holds that the welfare-warfare state is “freedom.” That’s what causes them to embrace the dark side and look askance at those of us who oppose it or resist it. That’s what causes them to go around singing “Thank God I’m an American because at least I know I’m free.”

But people who are mired in the darkness can break free of it. As an increasing number of people respond to the dictates of their conscience by opposing or resisting the dark side that the U.S. government has embraced, the higher level of conscience and consciousness can cause other people to do the same. That’s what will ultimately pull America back into the light of freedom, harmony, prosperity, and morality.

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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