Essays

Checkpoint, USA

Welcome to Checkpoint, USA. Shuttershock.

Checkpoint, USA –There is an all-American town where the morning dew glistens in hues of red, white, and blue. You can find border checkpoints at  every corner, whether besides the local Country Kitchen Buffet or your go-to gas station. 

Checkpoint locals are proud residents of a “constitution-free zone”, where they can expect to be regularly stopped, searched, poked and prodded by law enforcement at a moment’s notice. Whether you’re out strolling, riding the Greyhound, or wafting along in your shiny new Prius, the boys in blue in Checkpoint, USA are always  looking out for you, able to stop you at a moment’s notice without a warrant to see to search your belongings, confiscate property, and check to see if you’re a real American. 

These fine folks occasionally ignore your constitutional rights (only when necessary, they say) to fulfill their goal of identifying, then deporting undocumented immigrants; a group that has done the reprehensible: energetically take on jobs natives find unpleasant or unseemly, build small businesses, and believe in the American dream. 

Thanks to the low, low standard of “reasonable suspicion,” townspeople of every hue, identity, and polka dot pattern are subject to be stopped or seized by the town’s border agents without any warrant or due cause…so, what constitutes ‘reasonable suspicion’ in the town of Checkpoint? 

Here are a few examples

Avoiding eye contact with a border official? You can be stopped. Want to cover your bases and make more than usual eye contact? Try again, this will also get you stopped. Got a clunker, or even worse, a really nice ride? Be ready to pump your brakes because you’re getting stopped. Happen to be shy? These public servants really hate the silent treatment so you’re going to be trying to talk yourself out of that one. “Look like a foreigner” or whatever that means? You’re definitely going to catch the attention of the boys in blue. 

If Checkpoint sounds like the American dream, good news for you  because you’re probably already there.

Map of “Constitution-free Zone”. Map by Dolly Holmes, Harper’s Magazine.

Checkpoint, USA isn’t your average town. 

According to the Justice Department, Checkpoint, USA is everywhere in the US within 100 miles of any American border, land or sea. For reference, roughly two-thirds of Americans, nine of the country’s ten largest cities encompassing thirty eight states are located within Checkpoint’s city limits.  

CBP has established countless border checkpoints that interact with more than 27 million people annually, the vast majority of whom are here legally.  There are countless instances where U.S. citizens who either travel through these checkpoints or  live within the border zone have suffered abuses at the hands of federally-employed officials that would otherwise be unconstitutional. These misdeeds range from warrantless searches to arbitrary detention and even the forceful installation of surveillance technology on private property.

Incredibly, this isn’t the result of a newfangled scheme hatched in Stephen Miller’s underground lair. The policies that enable these injustices have existed since 1953, when the Justice Department adopted the “constitution-free” border zone with neither public comment nor open debate, all in the name of public safety. 

However, these checkpoints have failed to prevent or inhibit border crossings, a fact that was confirmed in a 2017 report from the Trump administration. From 2013, to 2016, interior checkpoints were a mere 2% of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) apprehensions of undocumented immigrants. 

A 2017 report from the Government Accountability Office found checkpoints to be ineffective at preventing border crossings. From 2013 to 2016, interior checkpoints accounted for only 2% of CBP apprehensions of undocumented immigrants. While these checkpoints are not effective at catching undocumented immigrants, they are very effective at sniffing out the occasional weed connoisseur; nearly 40% of all internal checkpoint write-ups involve U.S. citizens snatched with less than an ounce of marijuana. The United States, in its efforts to deter illegal immigration, gave CBP the power to arbitrarily stop and search most Americans, and then, to add insult to injury, confiscate their weed. 

The town of Checkpoint is built on a foundation of false promises in which U.S. citizens trade in their constitutional rights in exchange for a miniscule number of apprehended undocumented immigrants. If you don’t think this is a fair exchange, maybe it’s time to leave Checkpoint behind and close America’s constitution-free zone.

Nico Zviovich is an Atlanta-based public affairs professional.