200 million Americans live in the 100-mile zone where Border Patrol can ask for papers

Attribution: Getty Images

Link to orginal source: Gabe Ortiz |

Incidents of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents asking for the citizenship status of passengers on Amtrak trains and Greyhound buses are terrifying—and not even remotely new. Advocates have condemned reports of immigration agents demanding papers from passengers as far back as the Bush and Obama administrations. What advocates note is new, however, is the frequency at which these questionings are now happening, most recently in Florida. But how, you might ask, does Border Patrol have the authority to do this? Because of an “obscure law” passed by Congress decades ago:

Legislation from 1946 gives agents the authority to search any vehicle near an “external boundary” of the United States, and subsequent regulations defined that area as within 100 air miles of a land or sea boundary. While that may sound like just a sliver of the United States, 9 of the country’s 10 most populated cities lie within the so-called 100-mile zone, and about two-thirds of Americans live inside of it, according to the ACLU. Ninety-seven percent of New Yorkers lived within the area in 2007, and some states, including Florida and Maine, are entirely inside it.

“Within the 100-mile zone,” the American Civil Liberties Union tells Mother Jones, “CBP agents can set up permanent and temporary checkpoints and have some ability to circumvent the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.” And under the mass deportation policies of Donald Trump, unshackled immigration agents are set on taking full advantage of law created by a very white, 1940s-era Congress that never worried about being targeted themselves. Immigrant rights group America’s Voice:

In practice, Border Patrol agents routinely ignore or misunderstand the limits of their legal authority in the course of individual stops, resulting in violations of the constitutional rights of innocent people. These problems are compounded by inadequate training for Border Patrol agents, a lack of oversight by CBP and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the consistent failure of CBP to hold agents accountable for abuse. Thus, although the 100-mile border zone is not literally ‘Constitution free,’ the U.S. government frequently acts like it is.

The “100-mile border zone encompasses almost entirely the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont—along with the most populated parts of many others, including California and Illinois,” the group continues. With Trump in control and a Republican Congress that only enables him, lack of oversight could mean vast, horrific consequences for the approximately 200 million Americans—specifically brown Americans—who live in this area.

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