ACLU Lodges Complaints Over Checkpoints in Southern Arizona

January 16, 2014
Michel Marizco
Complainants told the ACLU that a Border Patrol agent gave them this card describing the agent's authority to pull them over and search their car. The ACLU disagrees with the agency's interpretation of its right to conduct a search.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a complaint with the Homeland Security Department over how Border Patrol agents treat United States citizens at checkpoints in Southern Arizona.

The ACLU’s complaint stems from the smaller checkpoints that dot the highways in Southern Arizona. These sit in open areas that border small towns.

Fifteen people in a dozen incidences at six of these checkpoints complained that Border Patrol agents overstepped their authority and searched their vehicles without having reason to do so. Agents can ask brief questions about a person’s citizenship but need good legal reason to do anything more at checkpoints.

"One man who objected to questions that had nothing to do with his residence status was at gunpoint forcibly pulled out of his vehicle and almost Tasered by a group of agents in Southern Arizona about a month ago," said ACLU lawyer James Lyall.

Other allegations include:

• A driver and passenger detained in a wire cage while agents searched their car despite their objections. The complaintants said an agent's drug-sniffing dog alerted to the car next to theirs.

• Border Patrol agents detained a woman for more than an hour because her car smelled like a skunk and questioned her legitimate prescription medication.

In a statement, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman said the agency doesn’t tolerate agent misconduct and investigates all complaints. The statement read:

Border Patrol traffic checkpoints are a critical enforcement tool for carrying out the mission of securing our nation's borders against transnational threats. Checkpoints deny major travel routes from the borders to smugglers intent on delivering people, drugs and other contraband to the interior of the United States and allow the Border Patrol to establish an important second layer of defense.