News & Politics

Here's How Citizenship Checkpoints Are Terrifying Drivers Under the Trump Administration

These stops become even more frightening in the age of separating families.

Photo Credit: Gerald L. Nino, CBP, U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security

As family separations and infant detention centers dominate national news coverage, even the supposedly "routine" elements of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's work is becoming more frightening — and that, it seems, may be the point.

An example of this comes from a report from Maine's Bangor Daily NewsThursday about a highway checkpoint along a route to the Canadian border, where drivers are stopped and asked for information about their citizenship status.

Such stops, the report notes, are "routine" and have been going on for years. But under President Donald Trump's administration, they become even more terrifying than usual in two distinct ways.

First, it's clear that Trump has empowered the border patrol to be more aggressive, which gives even ordinary citizens reason to be fearful of these interactions. The psychological effect on non-citizens, both authorized and unauthorized, is substantially worse.

This fact is exacerbated by Trump's pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court for refusing a judge's order to stop harassing people over their immigration status. Trump's view that this is a pardonable offense has the effect of giving border patrol a blank check to be discriminatory and to essentially engage in racial profiling.

But second, the practice also gives the impression that immigration is somehow a threat. Despite what far-right hardliners may say, there's no "immigration crisis" aside for the cruel way the government treats immigrants. People may get the impression that there's something particularly threatening about immigrants, however, if border patrol pulls them over to ask about their citizenship status.

It also seems, according to the Bangor Daily News, that border agents themselves may have no idea what they're talking about. Consider what one agent reportedly said when asked about the stops:

“We need to know what citizen — what country you’re a citizen of,” an agent said Wednesday evening. When questioned about what would happen if a driver declined to answer, he said the car would only be able to keep going if, after further questioning and upon the agent’s judgment, “the agent is pretty sure that you’re U.S. citizens.”

This explanation is nonsense. Millions of people in the United States have every legal right to be in the country — and to travel along the highway — even though they're not citizens. The idea that they will detain you indefinitely if you're not a U.S. citizen is ridiculous. (It's possible the agent misspoke here, but the idea that they would be so unclear about this central issue is deeply troubling.)

The report also notes that the ACLU has concerns that the border patrol checkpoints may violate constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.

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Cody Fenwick is a reporter and editor. Follow him on Twitter @codytfenwick.