40% of All Border Patrol Busts Are for Petty Amounts of Pot
Border patrol is allowed to conduct warrantless searches within 100 miles of the border. But they mostly use this authority to bust US citizens for possessing negligible amounts of weed.
Published on August 22, 2019

Since taking office, President Trump has led a personal crusade against illegal immigration. But despite constant calls for increased border security, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials actually spend a lot of their time and energy busting American citizens who are caught with tiny amounts of pot.

Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy, Patty Murray, and Gary Peters recently wrote a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a review of immigration checkpoint policies. This request was made in order to ensure that these policies were compliant with the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. As part of their request, the senators inquired as to the number of US citizens arrested at border checkpoints, and the reasons for their arrests.

“Comprehensive data on who receives additional screening at checkpoints, and the reasonable suspicion that undergirds these encounters, searches, and seizures, is fundamental to understanding if and how Border Patrol abides by constitutional limits,” the senators wrote. “While the GAO has previously reviewed the Border Patrol’s use of immigration checkpoints as part of its 'defense in depth strategy,' it has not investigated the process for deciding whether, when, and under what circumstances Border Patrol may conduct additional screening, searches, and seizures at immigration checkpoints.”

CBP officers currently have the legal right to stop and search vehicles without a warrant within 100 miles of the border, and can also conduct warrantless searches of private land within 25 miles of the border. The senators' letter cites a 2017 review of this policy by the GAO, which reports that “40 percent of checkpoint seizures were from US citizens for one ounce or less of marijuana.” 

But, because CBP officers are enforcing federal law, they can arrest anyone who is in possession of pot, even if it is in a state where weed is legal.

In light of this discovery, the senators have proposed a new bill that would curtail warrantless searches within the 100-mile “Border Zone.” The senators are concerned by the constitutional ramifications of these warrantless searches, but also note that using the country's border police to enforce minor pot possession laws is a “terrible” use of resources.

“‘Show me your papers’ are words that you should never hear once inside the United States. Unless a government agent has a legitimate reason to stop and search you — a reasonable suspicion or probable cause — Americans should not be subject to questioning and detention for merely going about their daily lives,” Leahy said in a statement. “The Trump administration cannot be trusted to use its finite resources in a way that protects our civil liberties and reflects our values.”

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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