Do US Border Patrol Immigration Checkpoints Violate 4th Amendment Rights

Under the United States Constitution, Amendment IV – US citizens have the right to:

“Be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” (source)

Are the type of government regulated checkpoints in the YouTube video within US borders a prelude to further erosion of our 4th Amendment rights? Or are they appropriate responses to  broader struggles as a nation to secure our boarders similar to enhanced screening at airports?

Here is an excerpt from the position taken by Roadblocks.org:

“We oppose the use of roadblocks, period. The only justification for stopping citizens under a roadblock scenario is to warn them of an unseen peril that could cause injury or death to an unsuspecting motorist.

So-called “sobriety check points,” or seat belt checks, or the myriad of other excuses the government concocts to harass and intimidate its citizens through the use of roadblocks are, in our opinion unconstitutional and in direct contradiction to any honest definition of freedom.

A free and open society that champions individual liberty and personal responsibility — the kind of society we try to tell the world the USA represents, cannot condone the arbitrary stopping, interrogating, intimidation and searching of citizens whose only crime is to be peacefully traveling a public highway.” (source)

There are 9 border checkpoints starting in the Texas Rio Grande Valley and ending in San Diego, California.  They are situated 25 – 75 miles from the actual US-Mexican border and are the third line of border protection under our current three layer system. The other two layers include rover patrol on the actual border line and sentinels who actively monitor the border for illegal trespassers. Similar border checkpoints exist near the US-Canadian border as well.

I recently drove to California from Houston and recall being stopped at one checkpoint somewhere between Arizona and California. The border agent did not use much discernment at all when waiving us through. It seems he was relying solely on racial profiling to determine who to stop. My girlfriend and I must not have looked like illegal aliens because he just let us through without even questioning us. Considering how simple and non-abrasive the whole process was to be screened at this checkpoint, I can see how some people don’t have an issue with them. In my experience, I did not feel harassed nor intimidated at all.

On the question of their legality, a case in 1976 paved the way for SCOTUS justifying border checkpoints as constitutional. The verdict from US v. Martinez-Fuerte reads:

“The Border Patrol’s routine stopping of a vehicle at a permanent checkpoint located on a major highway away from the Mexican border for brief questioning of the vehicle’s occupants is consistent with the Fourth Amendment, and the stops and questioning may be made at reasonably located checkpoints in the absence of any individualized suspicion that the particular vehicle contains illegal aliens.” (source)

Although my experience was relatively pain free, the language in this justification is rather broad. After reading the full case, it seems to contradict the 4th Amendment in every way. In other words, the 4th Amendment gives US citizens the right to move about the country unmolested unless a reasonable doubt exists. Yet the verdict from US v. Martinez-Fuerte basically states, because so many illegal immigrants are passing through our borders and we don’t know who they are, we as a government reserve the right to question everyone. And paranoia that anyone could be an illegal immigrant is all the reasonable doubt needed to justify border check points.

It seems like in the last 10-15 years, starting with George W. Bush, our constitutional rights have been eroding inch by inch due to paranoia of one form of danger or another. It started with unwarranted wire-taps, body scans at airports, detaining & killing US citizens without due process, gun control and now immigration checkpoints. Sooner or later the cumulative results of all of these incremental incursions into our civil rights as US citizens will render the US Constitution powerless to protect us from government tyranny.

This is of course an extreme interpretation rooted in my own paranoia caused by historical abuse of power by foreign totalitarian regimes. We as a nation have not reached that boiling point yet, nor do I consider the US government to be totalitarian. But if the infrastructure exists to enact totalitarian control over its citizens, should we be concerned not for ourselves, but our children?

At this point, I am of the opinion that an extra layer of precaution is necessary and it is for the greater good. However, in the wrong hands, the same tools used for this extra layer of precaution can easily become the reason for caution themselves.

Governments exists based on the trust of the citizens they support. When that trust is broken, then legitimacy of the governing power is compromised. I still trust in our government, but based on videos like these surfacing; there seems to be an issue worth discussing.