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The entire state of Michigan is a "border zone" and here's what it means

Apr 3, 2018

Michigan, a border zone

When the term “border zone” comes to mind, one might think of El Paso, San Diego, or Tucson. But according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, the entire state of Michigan is a border zone.

That’s because federal regulations give CBP the power to operate within 100 miles of any U.S. “external boundary,” and the mitten is surrounded by Canada or the Great Lakes, which are considered international borders .

What this means

The Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protects citizens from random and arbitrary stops and searches, meaning authorities need a warrant or “probable cause.” But according to the ACLU, this law does not entirely apply at our border zones. For starters, CBP can operate immigration checkpoints within this zone, and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 gives officials the authority to set up checkpoints, stop and search individuals, vehicles and make arrests within the “border zone” -- all without a warrant.

The ACLU explains it’s not that simple, though. Within this 100-mile zone, if immigration officials don’t have a warrant to search, they need “reasonable suspicion” of an immigration violation or crime.

But regardless of what they need, CBP agents often ignore the legality of their powers within the 100-mile border zones, threatening the constitutional rights of those throughout the state and country.

What’s going on in Michigan

In 2016, the Michigan Immigrant Civil Rights Center and American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government, arguing the 100-mile zone where immigration officials have “extra-constitutional” powers is too broad. The MIRC and ACLU wanted specific data on where, and how far from the border, stops occur and why agents are stopping those legally in the country. Advocates had been unsuccessfully trying to obtain this information via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for over a year at the time.

The Detroit News reported at the time that it obtained data logs showing nearly a third of people processed by border agents in the Detroit sector are U.S. citizens, and about 40 percent are either citizens or lawfully in the country. Fewer than 2 percent of foreign citizens stopped have a criminal record.

Just a few weeks ago, the Detroit Free Press reported arrests by the Detroit office of CBP increased by 49% from 716 arrests in 2016 to 1,070 in 2017. This does not include arrests made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, which skyrocketed by 126% for immigrants with no criminal records in 2017, from 487 to 1,101.

An open letter from the ACLU released on March 21 asked Greyhound to stop allowing Border Patrol agents to raid buses and bus stops. The letter details that federal agents routinely interrogate and arrest passengers.

According to the letter, a couple arriving in Detroit on a Greyhound bus was detained by CBP agents, who gave no reason for the stop before questioning the two about their immigration status. A man was arrested and transferred to the local police department.

In another incident, a Greyhound bus leaving Michigan for New York was stopped and CBP agents asked every passenger to provide proof of citizenship and immigration status and identification. Those who did not provide proof were taken into custody.