Seattle's Border Xing

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A border checkpoint in downtown Seattle? Ferry terminal, train station, 4th and Pike? Perfectly legal, the government says. It's right there in the books - immigration roadblocks allowed 100 air miles inland from US borders...not just with Mexico and Canada, but the coastal borders of the nation.

The ACLU calls it the "Constitution-free Zone" and notes two-thirds of the US population lives within it, all of us subject to random and arbitrary stops and searches usually prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.

That's the law the Border Patrol uses to justify stopping law-abiding US citizens such as Steve Dixon of Brinnon (Hood Canal), who might have gone to prison had it not been for an attorney with reasonable fees and ultimately the decision of US Attorney Jeff Sullivan. He dropped the case for "lack of federal interest," he told the P-I.

The patrol doesn't seem to get it, but its goodwill stemming from the 1999 capture of would-be terror bomber Ahmed Ressam has all but run out. SW's Jesse Froehling reported on this in June, noting the anger among some offended residents of the San Juans. Also, ferry workers were being recruited as patrol spies. As Dixon told the P-I last week, "I'm not proud of my country anymore."

Recently, my wife and I, in a rented min-van driving back from Vancouver, were picked out of the border lineup at Blaine for a search. Inside the also-slow-crawling line at the patrol's offices, an officer was upset - mini-vans are no longer supposed to be randomly stopped like this, but the officer who flagged us hadn't gotten that memo.

Oh well, we were in the system now, so the interrogation went forth, with this "incident" presumably being added to our "file." The officer at the keyboard, studying our passports and asking questions, including SS numbers, typed endlessly. At one point he looked up:

"Just that one offense?" he said to the wife.

"Which offense?" she asked.

"In Oakland."

Apparently searching the federal crime-info computer, he had found her unspeakable record - a traffic violation when she lived in California, at age 19, three decades ago.

"Yes, just that one." The tone said die.

After a half hour, we were free to go. I have to wonder what's in the system, and, the next time we pass over the border or through customs, what memo an officer won't have gotten.

As for those inland checkpoints, John Bates, Border Patrol chief in charge of the Northwest, told the P-I they'll continue, and, furthermore, "if we encounter other violations of law, we are not going to turn our back on them." He's protecting America.

How did James Madison put it? We can be trusted to reject tyrants who openly oppress, but we'll give up our rights to anyone who tells us it's for our own good.

 
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