BORDER PATROL GOES TOO FAR
Ayear after the end of World War II, Congress quietly amended the Immigration and Naturalization Act to grant border agents wide latitude to interrogate people they suspected were in the country illegally, provided that the agents were “within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States.” Congress let the Justice Department determine what “reasonable distance” meant, and in 1953 Atty. Gen. Herbert Brownell Jr. set it at 100 miles. There was no public discussion of why he picked that distance. Yet even at the time of the 1946 amendment, members of Congress raised concerns about granting such extraordinary power to border agents to set up checkpoints, to stop people on a mere suspicion and to freely enter private lands (though not buildings) within 25 air miles of the border. But the desire to crack down on illegal immigration won out. Courts later concurred, ruling that the government’s interest in enforcing immigration laws outweighed 4th Amendment protections against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” They allowed agents to question someone if they had a “reasonable suspicion” that the person might be here illegally, rather than the probable cause standard used in criminal cases. That set the table for the current Border Patrol practice of maintaining three dozen permanent checkpoints and dozens more temporary checkpoints on highways within 100 miles of the southwest border, with additional checkpoints similarly scattered in the northern tier of states.
Los Angeles Times