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The United States v. Martinez-Fuerte decision

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That the US border patrol may be permitted to set up internal checkpoints up to 100 miles within the interior of the U.S. The justices ruled the 4th amendment was not violated and that it’d be unreasonable to require a warrant to establish each checkpoint. It was hoped that such measures would counter smuggling of illegal immigrants and drugs alike and it was decided that the public interest “outweighs the constitutionally protected interest of the private citizen”. If the 4th amendment wasn’t violated as the court suggests, such a flimsy justification wouldn’t’ve been needed. U.S. v. Martinez-Fuerte is a prime example of how a country can incrementally lose its rights despite technically retaining them on paper. For if repealing the 4th amendment were proposed in Congress tomorrow, America would have a revolution by lunch. But if the 4th amendment is slowly chipped away over the years as it has been, no one protests or much less notices.

The 4th was conceived to protect against unreasonable search and seizures. In other words, if the government wants to invade someone’s privacy, they had better get a warrant or have probable cause (which entails having an articulable reason and is more than a “hunch”). Currently, suspicionless and wholesale stops are the modus operandi of these checkpoints. The court’s conclusion that any intrusion to motorists is negligible is not valid because of its massive scope: the 100 mile zone encompasses an area that holds 2/3rds of the U.S. population. It covers vast tracts of land throughout Alaska and Hawaii which are thousands of miles from the Mexican border (Mexico is the origin of approx. 85% of illegal immigrants in the States) and completely engulfs states such as Maine and New Hampshire, states that have the one of the lowest rates of illegal immigration.

Nevertheless, the most concerning transgressions stem not from the fact that these measures are inefficient, but because of the resulting encroachments on American civil liberties. An ACLU report claims that the these checkpoints are rife with examples of unconstitutional practices beyond the condoned use of brief inquires to motorists about their immigration status. Practices such as disregarding geographic restrictions of authority, stopping motorists without probable cause, unreasonably long inquiries and using the checkpoints to conduct drug searches. The exact scope of these malfeasances are hard to ascertain as much of the data remains closed to the public, probably out of a natural desire for any organization to cover up anything that damage its reputation and stop such information from helping illegal immigrants evade the border police. However, there are numerous videos that have surfaced online that depict agents acting unconstitutionally by telling people they must answer their questions, something that goes against the 5th amendment.

Even if the organization to clean itself up, it would still increase government intrusion into the lives of ordinary citizens and impede them from traveling unmolested along the road. A citizen rolling up to a checkpoint may feel legally compelled to answer immigration and drug questions due to the official looking nature of the installation. As noted in the Camara v. San Francisco case, citizens have “no way of knowing the lawful limits of the inspector’s power to search, and no way of knowing whether the inspector himself is acting under proper authorization” unless they risk criminal conviction by refusing to comply. While the constitution still applies within the 100 mile zone, citizens may also recognize that exercising their 5th amendment right to remain silent might subject them to scrutiny, harassment, beration and further inconveniences such as being directed over to secondary inspection. Anecdotal evidence suggests people have been stopped for up to 40 minutes, well beyond the 20 minute limit that is considered “reasonable” by the courts.

While many people might be annoyed at the the admittedly shrill, belligerent and unrespectful behavior of many motorists toward the border agents, they should be lauded for asserting their rights. Checkpoints thrive on people who comply with unreasonable searches, detainments, and seizures because it’s less of a hassle or are otherwise uninformed. Many of these unnecessary institutions would grind to a halt if everyone held them accountable for their infractions or chose to exercise their 5th amendment right to remain silent. Constantly standing up to abuses of power and civil rights when the path of least resistance might be complying with whatever authority orders citizens to do is a patriotic duty that is one of the things preventing America from turning into an authoritarian police state. While there is a need to combat illegal immigration, casually dismantling the 4th along the way is unacceptable. Freedom is not worth the security that comes with having less crime. Apurva Shrestha is a sophomore international affairs major.

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