Federal Agents Board Buses 100 Miles From Border To Ask, Are You A U.S. Citizen?


When people are crossing a U.S. border, they expect to be asked about their citizenship. But not when they’re driving up the East Coast.

U.S. Border Patrol agents are boarding buses from private lines like Greyhound and Concord Coach within 100 miles of a U.S. border, asking passengers if they’re American citizens. It turns out agents are empowered to do this through a little-known law called the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. There are more and more reports of officers stopping cars and buses.  

Here’s what happens, according to Dennis Harmon, division chief for the Border Patrol Houlton sector in Maine. Border Patrol agents set up immigration checkpointson highways within 100 miles of a U.S. border. They stop every vehicle traveling on the road, and ask each person if they are a U.S. citizen. If the person replies, ‘Yes,’ they are a citizen, in most cases, they are free to go.

“If they are a citizen of the United States, there is no law or regulation that requires them to carry identification saying they’re a citizen,” Harmon tells Here & Now’s Peter O’Dowd. “That simple verbal declaration of ‘I was born in Lewiston, Maine, or Sioux Falls,’ and that proves they’re a United States citizen.”

But it’s up to the discretion of the officer to believe that the person is really a citizen. While U.S. citizens do not have to show officers documentation to prove they are a citizen, Harmon says non-U.S. citizens who have legal status are required by law to carry their papers.

This discretion is raising questions among civil rights advocates about whether racial profiling is at play.

Border Patrol says these checkpoints are nothing new. While the actual number is unknown, the American Civil Liberties Union says, according to news reports, that the federal government operates almost 170 checkpoints within the border zone.

But Border Patrol sometimes gets it wrong. In 2012, the New York legal aid group Families for Freedom successfully sued for records that showed at a bus station in Rochester, Border Patrol agents mistakenly arrested 300 people with legal status over the course of four years.

The ACLU has filed Freedom of Information Act lawsuits in Michigan, Southern California and Arizona hoping to force Border Patrol to turn over records of how often people are wrongfully detained at immigration checkpoints, says Thomas Dresslar, an ACLU spokesperson. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees U.S. Border Patrol, declined to comment on the pending lawsuits.

Not only is racial profiling at play, but the ACLU contends that Border Patrol agents are violating the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures. In May, the ACLU won a lawsuit against Border Patrol earlier this year after it used an immigration checkpoint in New Hampshire to search cars for illegal drugs.

“The Fourth Amendment does apply in the so-called 100-mile zone,” says Emma Bond, a staff attorney with the ACLU in Maine. “[Customs and Border Protection] does claim that within this 100-miles that they can stop anyone without a warrant, without probable cause, without reasonable suspicion. And yet, all of those things are the hallmark of Fourth Amendment protections.”

Civil rights and immigration advocates also say that the 100-mile zone is too large. According to the ACLU, nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population live within the 100-mile zone, due to the location of many major cities along the coasts.

This means that if you live in Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island or Vermont, you are completely or almost entirely within the zone and can be subject to Border Patrol immigration checkpoints.

If you do come face-to-face with an officer, Bond says you can invoke your right to remain silent and say you do not consent to a search. You can also use your smartphone or other device to record the interaction as long as you don’t interfere with the officer, she says.

“It really is a question of what kind of society we want to live in,” she says. “Well, I don’t want to live in a society where I could be stopped by an armed law enforcement officer when I’m boarding a bus, when I’m going to the grocery store, when I’m going to work. And yet that’s what [Customs and Border Protection] claims that they can do.”


8 thoughts on “Federal Agents Board Buses 100 Miles From Border To Ask, Are You A U.S. Citizen?

  1. Mark knows as well as I do, driving a rig out West you can come across a road block 200 more from the border!
    Wouldn’t have this problem if we simply installed a machine him next every 500 yards….no costly wall needed!

    1. They make me open the door so they can step up and look in. Illegal as hell, but I let them do it, I never have anything to hide. My bear spray, knives and taser dont count. 🙂

  2. Has nothing to do with illegals! Heck in 1972 I was coming back from Canada with six others in a car headed into New York State. One of us was a student from South America. (Note: since he looked Hispanic, the BP agents I guess thought he was “illegal”!) Border Patrol there held all of us for several minutes trying to get the so-called “illegal” to say he was in the country illegally but since we all stated he was a student at Columbia U, they finally let us all go. (He had a student visa, but failed to bring it) If this happened in 2018, we’d probably all be arrested for no reason.

  3. The information in this article may be true, but the facts are totally wrong. Anyone that comments should stay to the Common Law. I have read the 4th. Amendment many times there is absolutely nothing that allows a checkpoint within 100 miles of any border(s) (oceans too) without a warrant issued for Probable Cause.

    Once drug dogs are used to smell drugs or contraband now a crime scene, (unlawful search) need a warrant. Period. In New Hampshire a small amount of drugs was found at a recent checkpoint, that was a misdemeanor. The judge dismissed the case against those arrested based on the Article 19, Part One of the New Hampshire Constitution. For which I have enclosed. Judge did not dismiss on the 4th. Amendment as he should have done also.
    [Art.] 19. [Searches and Seizures Regulated.] Every subject hath a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches and seizures of his person, his houses, his papers, and all his possessions. Therefore, all warrants to search suspected places, or arrest a person for examination or trial in prosecutions for criminal matters, are contrary to this right, if the cause or foundation of them be not previously supported by oath or affirmation; and if the order, in a warrant to a civil officer, to make search in suspected places, or to arrest one or more suspected persons or to seize their property, be not accompanied with a special designation of the persons or objects of search, arrest, or seizure; and no warrant ought to be issued; but in cases* and with the formalities, prescribed by law.
    June 2, 1784
    Amended 1792 to change order of words.

    This 100 mile Constitutional Exempt Area as it is called, not zone was by a corrupt Federal judge named Edward Korman. His parents were immigrants from Ukraine go figure?? He had ruled computers could be searched within 100 miles of the border. Border patrol picked up on this, used for the basis of checkpoints. Once you admit you are a U.S. citizen you have given jurisdiction to the unlawful stop, papers please. I haven’t been stopped yet, My answer will be I’m a NH resident.

    Conclusion; Border Patrol has no legal/lawful right to establish checkpoints. People have to wake up. Articles similar to this one is to condition you to give up your Rights. Border Patrol states dogs are used to detect human trafficking. How can a dog detect human trafficking is beyond Me? Victims of human trafficking must have a special body order or DNA only dogs can smell, just another lie.

  4. 100 miles from the border? Why not just post them AT THE BORDER!!??? DUH!!! What a concept.

    It’s like saying, I’m going to protect my property starting in my backyard after they’ve already gotten passed my driveway and into my house.

    Gee….what’s the point then?

  5. This sounds like a horse left the stable already issue due to lax security at the border

    So why are they making this our problem?
    Because they are assholes not doing their jobs that’s why

    Any reason they can come up with to destroy your rights

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