Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Friday, July 28, 2017

Sorting the Citizens from the Non-Citizens: Checkpoints within US Territory

This video appeared on my Facebook feed this morning.  It was filmed by a family that was travelling within the borders of the US when they were stopped by border agents  (not at the border mind you) and asked about citizenship:  "So..... Are you a US citizen?"

To her credit the driver, a teacher in San Diego, refused to answer the question and had a few of her own.  Good ones.

And yet, I found that I wasn't particularly shocked that she and her family were stopped.  Where I live  (France) the authorities do have the right to stop me at any time and ask for my papers.  It's never happened and I do have to wonder why that is. Oh, hell, let's be honest here, I don't need to wonder at all since I have gone through checkpoints in the Paris area in the past and duly noted that almost all the people who were being forced to produce their papers were from Africa.  Me, they just looked at my clothes and my legs, smiled at me, and waved me through.

I'll let you watch the video for yourself and if you are so inclined I would love to hear your thoughts.

In particular, if you are a migrant/expatriate or a naturalized citizen I'm curious to know if you have ever been stopped by the immigration authorities or law enforcement in your host country.


Tim said...

I once went by a Border Patrol checkpoint on I-93 in the New Hampshire White Mountains going in the opposite direction. I was kind of shocked as while I had heard of such checkpoints especially along the border with Mexico I had never seen myself in the Northern US and this one in particular was almost 50 miles south of Canadian border which is the absolute legal limit they can be setup in. Interestingly I have driven this section of highway many times since and have never seen the presence of the Border Patrol since.

**This occurred well over 15 years ago.

Inaka Nezumi said...

In Japan, as you know, foreigners are required to carry and produce their Residence Card or passport upon demand to the authorities. Only ever happened to me at the airport, where the police sometimes wander the terminals performing spot checks. I've heard it happens on the street in Tokyo too, but have never heard of it happening in the town where I live.

Citizens, on the other hand, are not required to carry any identification whatsoever, and the only commonly-carried identification that would prove citizenship would be a driver's license, I think. I assume if I ever got carded and had nothing to show that I'm a citizen (could happen if I'm out walking the dog, for example), they would just have to believe me.

Mike Staubes said...

Resided in France for 12 years and carry "Titre de Sejour", which I've never been asked to produce except when writing occasional check. If asked by French police or airport security, I would show then the card and, if available, a US Passport. No problem. If on the other hand, you want to be a smart-assed American, the police would be happy to man-handle your smart-ass to the ground and put a knee on your neck. Like you, Victoria, I have been waived through customs, immigration, and other checkpoints around France and the "more-foreign-slightly-darker-looking-person" behind me stopped and searched. That person had to leave his extra camera batteries at the airport inspection gate; but not the "pink-skinned-American-white-boy": Guess some guard at the airport needed batteries that day. Go further into eastern Europe and the customs "goons" will take cigarettes, coffee, beer, wine right out of your hands and the heck with your ID.

Bruce B. said...

Saw this yesterday as well, I think it's making the rounds. Good for her for standing up, even though she's basically protected by white skin privilege. She almost had to insist on being detained.

Since you're not legally required to carry any official ID in the US (ferchrissakes, there's not even any form of official national ID), how in hell are these jackboots supposed to verify if the person in front of them is actually a US citizen? A driver's license, while proof of ID, does nothing to prove citizenship, it only proves residency. And no one is required to have a driver's license. AFAIK, there is NO legal requirement to carry ID.

Why are they even asking about citizenship in the first place? Having legal residency isn't sufficient? If they ask a legal resident if they're a US citizen, and if they then act differently in any way towards a legal resident, that seems like it would be blatantly unconstitutional and discriminatory. The whole "are you a US citizen?" question leaves a really bad taste.

Should we at least be happy that they're not dressed in brown? Frankly, this is a disgusting show of unconstitutional anti-immigrant state power.

Ella Dyer said...

When can we begin work on her presidential campaign? She knows more about the laws in the US than most! Scary, sad and sick!

Maria said...

I've seen the video, and I agree with some of the comments above. If you're not a US citizen and yet a legal resident, what then? Is there a law to carry your green card all the time? If you don't have it on you, and claim you're a citizen, even though you're not but could pass for one, will they ask you to prove it with a birth certificate or a passport? So, should everyone driving anywhere close to a border in the US have to carry their birth certificate with them if they're citizens?

I've never been stopped and asked to produce ID, but something like that kind of discrimination did happen to me, only in reverse. When I started working after school at 16, Congress had recently introduced a law obliging all employers to ask employees for proof of residency of all employees. There was a form that had to be filled out, with a check next to the documentation provided, birth certificate, passport, the green card or different types of visas.

When I filled mine in, I checked off the green card box and filled in the information. The person who had hired me was surprised. She had thought I was American because of my coloring and lack of foreign accent. Another employee joked that for all she knew, I might have been an illegal alien. I mentioned that if the law had come into force a little later, I would have checked off the box for U.S. citizen, and provided my naturalization papers. It's going to take several lifetimes to get rid of stereotypes.

Andrew said...

Thanks for sharing

Deborah Soloway said...

Yes, Maria, legal permanent residents are required to carry their "green cards" at all times. If stopped without one, you may be detained and fined until your legal status is confirmed. (This happened to my Canadian husband as we were returning from a day trip to Mexico.)

Bruce B. said...

In my previous post, I said "Should we at least be happy that they're not dressed in brown?" and used the words "state power". Then, later, I came across a video of Pres. Cheetos-in-chief giving a speech before what looks and sounds like a large gathering of police officers:

In the video (which you should watch if you can stomach it), tRump makes a "joke" about brutalizing people who have been arrested. The response of the gathering is to laugh (!) at the idea of brutalizing suspects (i.e.: anyone arrested by the police).

Go watch it. Chilling. It seems to reflect an attitude among those charged with applying state pressure to anyone who is suspected of committing any kind of crime (DWB: driving while brown?), no matter how small the supposed crime. This is not a question of "just a few bad apples", this is a gathering of police, all of whom are authorized to carry deadly weapons, and use them (usually with few if any negative consequences for the police officer), and who think it's funny to "rough up" a suspect.

If you're a person of color, or have a non-native accent in English (or even worse, both), I can't see how coming across one of these interstate Checkpoint Charlies wouldn't make you nervous as hell. And I'll try and resist making any analogies to the use of "internal passports" that were used in South Africa during apartheid...

Oops! ;)

Maria said...

@Deborah. My parents and I lived there in the golden years, then. I always remember our green cards carefully tucked away at home in a folder with all the other important papers! Even after my father and then I became US citizens, my mother never carried hers with her, except when we left the country. She was never stopped in the street, even though she barely spoke English, and had darker coloring than me. Probably, she was mistaken for an Italian grandma!

Anonymous said...

I live in Canada. I lived about 3 years of my adult life in the usa and left. If I add up all the crap as shown in this video, the reality of civil forfeiture, the usa's FATCA laws, you'll understand why I just stay out of that country. There is a whole world of really great places to visit.
Enjoy your "security" amerika.

John Richardson said...

Thanks for posting this. I just watched it once. But, what strikes me is that the "Immigration Officers" don't really seem to know what their authority is to stop people. He keeps flashing a card that (if I am understanding him correctly) suggests that the stop is "allowed" because of a Supreme Court decision. He doesn't seem to know what the specific law that "authorizes" the stop is (or maybe I just missed it). There is a world of difference between the stop being "allowed" and the stop being specifically "authorized" or "required".

In any event, like many things going on in the USA, this is extremely disturbing. The teacher should be given a medal for videoing this and standing up to it.

Most would have just said: "Yeah, I'm a citizen and driven on." There is NO DOUBT that they would have just accepted that she was a citizen.

Anonymous said...

I've only been stopped by the police in Japan once, and that was in the city where I lived on the outskirts of Tokyo. They were patient while I searched my wallet several times looking for my alien registration card (the kind that was in effect in those days), before remembering that it was in the process of being renewed and I had a paper document from city hall in a different pocket.

As another resident white once observed, you don't usually get stopped for bicycling while white. I agreed with him. You usually get stopped for bicycling while brown.

There's a big branch of a big Japanese multinational firm near us, and we often met engineers who were brought to this branch from the company's offices in other countries. They were stopped by the police all the time for either bicycling while brown or walking while brown.

Before the UK handed Hong Kong over to China, we were in a tour group crossing from China to Hong Kong. Hong Kong immigration inspectors randomly chose one member of the group for closer inspection. It's just a matter of randomness that the person chosen was the only non-white in the group.

When we went to France, I noticed a sign in the train station indicating that my wife had to register with the police. We found a police officer and she had to phone someone and look up instructions to find a special stamp to put in my wife's passport. We weren't stoppped after that though.

I was once stopped by the police in Canada too. They figured out I probably wasn't shoplifting after all and they let me go. They didn't ask about citizenship.

Meanwhile, back to the US. That teacher is lucky she's white. If she weren't, she might not have lived to tell the tale.

You know how many months the Social Security Administration holds a passport before returning it? (I applied for an SSN for my wife before ITINs were invented. We're still waiting for approval or rejection.) You know how many months the IRS holds a passport when applying for an ITIN before returning the passport (and sometimes rejecting the ITIN application because it wasn't accompanied by a passport, though luckily they eventually returned the passport). You think people can make these applications when police might demand to see their passport at any time?

Bruce B. said...

Jamais deux sans trois?

OK, promise, this is my last entry for this subject.

Just realized I didn't actually answer the question "have I ever been stopped", in this case, in France.

Yeah, 3 times, in 27 years. One of those times was when I bicycling the wrong way on a one way street in Lyon. The officer told me that I had to turn around, and that was it. Didn't ask for ID, just told me to turn around.

One other time was in Paris, by the CRS, while I was driving. Asked for my ID and car papers. Held me there all of maybe 3 minutes, and let me go.

Third time was also in Paris, and also while I was driving (DWW: driving while white?). It was on Bd St. Germain in the 5th arrond. Busy street. There were a bunch of cops at a particular place, and I was foolish enough to cross 4 lanes from one side of the street to the other very quickly, attracting their attention. Cop pulls me over, asks for my papers, and the first thing I do is ask if he speaks English (in English, of course). I showed him my US state license, he looked at it, looked at me, and just waved me on. He gave a look that I interpreted to mean that he just didn't want to deal with the situation. I chalked it up to DWAW (driving while American and White)?

Basically, I'm a white guy with a French sounding last name (even though in our family, there's no evidence of any French ancestry).

In the US, as far as I can remember, I was never stopped. Ever. In any of the 3 major cities I lived in, or during the 3 times I drove long distance, cross country from west to east. I did once have to stop at an agricultural checkpoint coming into California. The person asked if we had any fruits, vegetables (or animals?) that we got from a farm. We answered "no". End of story, and we continued. If they looked through the windows at what we had in the car, they were very discreet about, and I have my doubts that they even looked.

Comparing that lackadaisical attitude (even given the advantages of DWW) with the attitude that's shown on the video is, to put it mildly, shocking, and extremely disquieting. And it certainly doesn't make me want to even go visit the country where I was born, raised, educated and lived for almost 4 decades, much less ever want to live there again.

Bruce B. said...

Yeah, I know I said that my previous post was my last entry. So I lied. ;)

Take a look at the following blog post, posted on Thursday the 3rd, on Hullabaloo, a political blog from the excellent and really smart writer Digby Parton:

If we build it they will use it

Especially this part (I added the emphasis):
The Department of Homeland Security has the largest law enforcement agency in the country, with ICE and the Border Patrol heavily invested in tactics and strategies developed in war zones. They use all manner of military equipment, including battle-tested helicopters and weaponized drone aircraft.

Their reach is much farther into the country than most people realize. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, has a huge jurisdiction that stretches 100 miles from any U.S. international border, whether on land or at sea. That means it covers the entire state of Florida and the entire state of Maine, as well as virtually every major metropolitan area. These agencies routinely use interior checkpoints far from any border for roundups of suspected undocumented immigrants and conduct various other kinds of Homeland Security investigations.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is the second largest federal investigative agency in the country after the FBI, with more that 20,000 employees. Under the direction of former Marine Gen. John Kelly (now the White House chief of staff), and despite protestations that they are only going after the “bad hombres,” ICE agents have been instructed to “take off the gloves” and seize any and all undocumented immigrants that may cross their paths.

In case anyone is inclined to think that such a powerful, lawless police agency is no threat to law-abiding citizens, this should serve as a wake-up call. Betsy Woodruff at the Daily Beast reported that when the first version of the travel ban went into effect shortly after Trump’s inauguration, high-level Homeland Security officials issued specific orders to treat immigration lawyers as protesters and to refuse to cooperate with members of Congress.

These "internal checkpoints" are anything but banal. The teacher who was detained doesn't say whether her phone was inspected, whether she was separated from her phone at any time, and whether her picture was taken. For her sake, I hope that none of those thing happened.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Very interesting comments. I have a friend who lives in Tokyo who was stopped a few years ago and asked for his papers (he is a European-American and in Japan he stands out.) He refused to comply and for a very good reason: he was in an irregular situation and didn't have papers. His wife had refused to sign the papers for his spouse visa and so he was unable to renew. It all worked out eventually but he was very scared at the time.

Interesting how many stops were traffic related. My spouse was recently stopped here in Japan on a way to Costco. They asked for his license and papers and then when my daughter stepped up to translate they asked for HER papers. And she was very glad she had them because things might have gone very badly if she hadn't taken her purse with her that morning.

Inaka Nezumi said...

I've been stopped in the past for traffic infraction, but interestingly, don't think I was asked to show my Alien Registration Card (as it was called then). The driver's license was all they needed to issue me a ticket.

This was some time ago, though, so perhaps they have started adding immigration checks to traffic stops more recently?