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Immigration Controls and a Police State

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border-patrolby Jacob G. Hornberger

Yesterday I commented on conservative Pat Buchanan’s recent anti-immigration rant. Today, I wish to comment on an aspect of immigration controls that both conservatives and liberals rarely confront — the federal government’s police-state powers that come with enforcing immigration controls.

I’d venture to say that most Americans who are upset with the abusive tactics of the TSA at airports have no idea that Americans who live along our country’s southern border have had to deal with this type of federal abuse for decades — from the Border Patrol and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Over the years, the mindset among Americans living elsewhere in the country, I think, has been, “Oh, well, it’s not happening to me, so why should I care?”

Consider, for example, the fact that in Texas the Border Patrol has the legal authority, under the guise of immigration controls, to arbitrarily enter onto any private property that adjoins the Rio Grande. I have personal experience here. I grew up on a farm that adjoined the river. We could easily see Mexico whenever we drove down to the river to check on our irrigation pump.

The Border Patrol had the authority to come onto our farm without asking us, in the perpetual quest for illegal aliens. If we closed the front gate to our farm, they would simply open the gate and drive through, driving and searching all over our farm. If we put a lock on the gate and failed to provide them a key, they’d simply shoot off the lock and just enter onto the property.

No warrant. No judicial process. Just simple trespass onto our private property and everyone else’s along the border.

Now, I am certain that Pat Buchanan, like every other conservative who favors immigration controls, would be the first to stand up in front of a Heritage Foundation audience and exclaim proudly, “I’m a believer in private property and free enterprise.”

I’m also sure that your standard liberal who favors immigration controls would stand up in front of a Brookings Institute audience and exclaim proudly, “I’m a believer in privacy and the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable and warrantless searches and seizures.”

But with immigration controls, which both conservatives and liberals have long favored, comes enforcement. And warrantless entry onto private property by the Border Patrol has long been part and parcel of that enforcement.

Oh, I should mention that the Border Patrol’s power to arbitrarily enter onto people’s private property extends not just to farms and ranches that actually adjoin the border but also to private property that is miles away the border. They call it the “functional equivalent of the border.”

There are also those infamous border-control checkpoints inside the United States to consider. No, I’m not referring to the passport/drug-war checks at the international bridges that span the Rio Grande or other border crossing points. I’m talking about those official checkpoints that the feds have established entirely inside the United States. For example, at the airport in Laredo and on the highway heading north to San Antonio, the Border Patrol and INS are there, asking travelers for their papers and searching their cars and personal belongings — even though most of the people are traveling entirely within the United States.

For Anglo travelers, there is usually no problem, so long as they show the proper deference to federal officials. Light-skinned Hispanics dressed nicely or driving a late-model car are usually waved through. But if an Hispanic is dark-skinned or obviously poor or riding the bus, he had better be carrying his passport because he is going to be closely checked and returned to Laredo if his papers are not in order or, even worse, deported to Mexico.

Or consider the countless drivers along the border who are arbitrarily stopped by roving Border Patrol agents. A person can just be traveling along a highway and be suddenly pulled over by the Border Patrol and ordered to open up his trunk. No warrant. Just arbitrary stops based on such capricious standards as “The car was riding a bit low” or “The driver was going a bit too slow.”

How are all these things reconcilable with a free society? They’re not. Instead, they are the epitome of a police state. They did these things in the Soviet Union. They do them today in Cuba and North Korea.

Where do conservatives and liberals stand with respect to these police-state policies? Usually they remain silent about them. But they might well favor them or they might decry them. But what’s important to keep in mind is that such policies are an integral part of enforcing immigration controls. Saying that one is in favor of immigration controls and against a police state is like saying that one favors lightning and opposes thunder.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.


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