IF YOU LIVE OR HAVE DONE ANY AMOUNT of driving through the southern or southwestern portions of the United States, then you most likely have come across a U.S. Border Patrol Checkpoint. The experience goes a little like this: you’re driving down a monotonous stretch of road, most likely leaving a city like Tuscon, El Paso, or even Big Bend National Park. Some signs will tell you to slow your vehicle down to 35 mph, there’s a checkpoint up ahead. You’ll slow down, go through some cones, over some speed bumps, and through a cluster of about 15 different cameras. Then an officer in a green uniform will duck into your window and ask: ‘Are you a United States citizen?’ There may be multiple officers present and they may each be holding onto a German Shepard, either way, you don’t need to say anything.
That’s because you’re not trying to cross a border, you’re just driving through the United States, where the United States Constitution still applies. And that’s the beauty of constitutional rights — no matter who we are, what we look like, or even what our citizenship status is, we don’t always have to comply with immigration or police officers.
Federal regulations have given U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) the ability to operate within 100 miles of any U.S. ‘external boundary.’ However, its authority within this 100-mile zone isn’t limitless like it is at an actual border crossing. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Border Patrol officers cannot pull you over without reasonable suspicion (which has to be much more than just a ‘hunch’) and they cannot search your vehicle without a warrant or probable cause.
The video below shows just how easy, and often necessary, it is to exercise your rights at these checkpoints. If we don’t know our rights as U.S. citizens, then we can easily be taken advantage of by officers who have an incorrect scope of their authority.