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In Hartford, Vermont, last year, U.S. Border Patrol agents boarded a Greyhound bus as it arrived from Boston, asking passengers about their citizenship and checking the IDs of people of color or those with accents. In January, they stopped a man in Indio, California, as he was boarding a Los Angeles-bound bus. In questioning him about his immigration status, they told him his “shoes looked suspicious,” like those of someone who had recently crossed the border.
Interrogation, searches, demands for identification, and possible detainment are processes people are subjected to as they try to enter the U.S. at ports of entry as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection tries to keep borders secure. Turns out, this broad authority doesn’t end at ports of entry but extends for another 100 miles into the interior, across the entire perimeter of the country.
It’s an area some derisively refer to as the “Constitution-Free Zone.” It’s also home to two-thirds of the U.S. population.
Within this area, U.S Border Patrol, a division of Customs and Border Protection, has authority to board and search any vehicle, bus, or vessel without a warrant and can ask occupants to prove their legal status in this country: “Papers, please.”
Some 200 million people live within that 100-mile zone, which encompasses most major U.S. cities from east to west and north to south, including New York and Seattle, Detroit and Philadelphia. The zone also includes the entirety of many states, Florida, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, for example.
This wide authority, which appears to conflict with constitutional rights, is contained in a statutory change to the Immigration and Nationality Act more than 70 years ago. Regulations later established the 100-mile zone. The ACLU and other constitutional scholars have long argued that the 100-mile zone violates Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, but the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld it.
The warrantless bus raids have mobilized organizations and grassroots efforts to rein them in.