Thanks to a recent Seattle P-I article, we now have some facts and figures on the roadblocks being set up by the US Border Patrol on Washington State highways and at ferry terminals.  From the beginning, the justification made by the Border Patrol for using this technique of stopping everyone to make them prove their residence status was that it was necessary to do this so they could keep terrorists and their weapons out of the United States.  They also justified the stops in Northwest Washington with the need to curtail smuggling of items by boat into the US, especially through the San Juan Islands.  You know, if this were really happening, it would be a good idea.

I now have reason to believe their intentions.  There have been quite a few roadblocks.  According to the Post-Intelligencer article:

Since the end of February, the Border Patrol has operated 53 roadblocks — at the Anacortes ferry terminal, on state Route 20 near Newhalem and on the Olympic Peninsula along U.S. Route 101 and state Route 104 near the Hood Canal Bridge.

Agents have stopped 24,524 vehicles carrying 41,912 passengers. They have detained 19 people who were turned over to local police agencies for state crimes and taken 81 undocumented immigrants into custody.

The Border Patrol intends to continue the roadblocks and to bust people over small quantities of drugs.

One important thing to understand is that, in most cases, the US Constitution protects us from unreasonable search and seizures, and the right to not be searched without probable cause.  The US Supreme Court has backed up this concept, requiring law enforcement officers to have probable cause that we have committed a crime (or a warrant) to stop any of us anywhere.  There is one big exception.  The US Customs and Immigration Service and the US Border Patrol may stop people and their vehicles near the country’s border for the purpose of inspecting them to ensure they may legally enter the country, and that they are not bringing unlawful items into the country.  That exception is the authority that this agency is using to detain everyone who passes a given point well within the US.

I would be impressed with the tenacity of the Border Patrol in going so far to catch terrorists and smugglers.  I would be, if only they were actually catching any.  To date, they have not.  To date, they have found 81 undocumented aliens.  Since catching undocumented aliens is one of their missions, this is a plus.  However, they have found 81 this way, a total of 0.19% of the people they stopped.  That is, one-fifth of one percent.  This happened in 53 five-to-six hour sessions over eight months.  It seems that, with a few hours planning, that if the goal were to catch undocumented aliens, they could find a place where aliens gather (job sites, businesses that cater to an alien clientele, or outside the Home Depot store) and catch hundreds of aliens in a single six-hour session.  This seems to be a fairly inefficient way of performing this task, and one that should be able to be done without harassing large numbers of the innocent population.

Secondly, they note that they caught 19 people with arrest warrants.  Again, a commendable result, 19 bad guys off the streets.  But really, this is a job of local law enforcement agencies, and not a good reason to randomly stop 42,000 people.

The figure not quantified in the article is just how many people are charged with other crimes after being stopped. This includes the person in June who was stopped with a pickup load of salal, illegally harvested from a local forest.  It also includes the subject of today’s newspaper article, a gentleman found to be possessing a small amount of medical marijuana.  His possession of this quantity of this substance is legal according to Washington law, but possession of any marijuana is still a Federal crime.  So the cops catch a drug user.  Except that if a law enforcement agency is stopping people to search them for evidence of a crime without probable cause, that is illegal If this were any other law enforcement agency, this could not have happened.  So why are they really out there?

We know they are not really out there on Highway 101 or Highway 104 to protect our borders.  If this were the issue, they would be doing it closer to the border, or at an obvious weak spot near the water.  Their chances of catching a real terrorist of smuggler this way are so close to nil that it boggles the mind that they would still be at this after 53 tries.  They have drug-sniffing dogs.  So they must be looking for drug smugglers.  So far, all they are finding is old, sick men with medical marijuana.  Perhaps this is a “message” from the federal government to keep the focus on the increasingly-silly “war” on drugs.  Would it not be a better use of resources to find out where cocaine smugglers come to drop off their load?  Or investigate places that might be methamphetamine factories?   No, these just don’t seem like reasonable explanations.

What I fear is that the purpose of these roadblocks is to get us used to the idea of having roadblocks in our midst.  In the articles that came out in March and April, when the local Border patrol office started the program in Washington, they were asked how they could legally perform roadblocks.  One of the answers was that they had been doing roadblocks in California for years, so we simply had not heard about them here.  Does that make them right?  I think not.  But it does tell me that an unstated goal of this program is to let us “get used to” the idea of federal law enforcement roadblocks in our midst.

I understand the need for security of both our borders and within our “homeland.”  I just hope that a new government can find it within itself to protect us without infringing on our freedom to move about within our nation’s borders.

It bothers me that, with the shortages of law enforcement officers that our government claims to have, that they are using the officers who are supposed to be out finding bad guys and terrorists to pick on old men with a few grams of pot.  I know it is against Federal law to have the pot.  But please move along and find the actual criminal.

It bothers me more that the officers who we trust to protect us might instead be on a campaign to keep us in fear.  We must be afraid of terrorists!  We have drugs in our land!  We have to stop you and your neighbors on the road because one of you might be a terrorist!  The reality?  I am more in fear of the unchecked law enforcement officers who think this behavior is acceptable.

So, what is the real mission of the US Border Patrol?