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The “Creepy” Mission of the Customs and Border Patrol: Harassing Immigrants

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US Border PatrolOver the weekend, the Washington Post ran a feature on Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and the work the agency does at Dulles Airport.

The people who work in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at Dulles International Airport — seizing joints, ivory, dirt, live crabs, caches of Iranian jewelry, leopard skins, all manner of sausages and anything anyone could ever think to smuggle in — see the world tucked into this luggage arriving from overseas.

The favorite flavors people miss from home, the pets people can’t bear to leave behind, the scams they run, the souvenirs they can’t pass up, the drugs they hide in children’s juice boxes, the religious items they cherish. It’s all right there.

“Every day is like opening presents. Every day you find something really unusual,” said Kristi Currier, an agriculture specialist who leads a small, cheerful beagle around the luggage carousel to sniff out apples, pork and other threats.

That’s one side of the CBP story. But in reality, much of the other work of CBP is not just “like opening presents.”  For example, in March, the agency was instrumental in deporting a four year old US citizen back to Guatemala. A month later, we reported that a Los Angeles musician was tasered into a coma by an Arizona border patrol agent.

The CBP has seen a massive increase in its budget. So massive that the agency has expanded its mission far beyond what most people think. It’s become a de facto police force in towns and cities along both borders. Seattle Weekly wrote an extensive expose about the intrusive work of CBP. We’ve done one post on this important piece, and it’s a read rich with information about CBP. One thing is clear: They’re not just looking for jewelry and ivory. They’re looking for people — and harassing citizens and immigrants along the way.

The article begins by documenting the death of Roldan Salinas:

Salinas’ death traumatized the Hispanic population of Forks—about a third of the town’s 3,500 residents—and cast light on the Border Patrol’s aggressive presence in town. Agents have stopped and questioned Hispanics paying their water bill at City Hall, filling up at the gas station, leaving the grocery store, and riding their bikes. High-school students as well as adults have been asked for their papers, according to the Forks Human Rights Group, which has compiled nearly 80 stories of such encounters.

Agents also hover in the woods for hours, sometimes deep into the night, says Mayor Bryon Monohon. “It’s creepy,” he says. “People just disappear and we have no way of tracking them.” (The nearest immigration detention center in Tacoma, roughly 160 miles away, does not readily provide information about detainees.)

Just as troubling to the mayor is what the Border Patrol is doing in Forks in the first place. The town is nearly 60 miles from the nearest port of entry from Canada, in Port Angeles, which is served by a small ferry that travels between the Olympic Peninsula and the picturesque city of Victoria on Vancouver Island. The nearest land border crossing, much more heavily trafficked, is 200 miles away, in Blaine.

The Border Patrol, however, claims jurisdiction over all territory 100 miles from an actual border. Federal law has long granted the agency the authority to work this far inland. But it is only since 9/11, as the federal government has granted the agency more money and manpower, that its resources have matched its ambitions. The change has been especially noticeable on the northern border, where the number of agents has increased exponentially.

In 2000, there were a little more than 300 agents patrolling up north. By last year that number had ballooned to 2,263, an increase of more than 700 percent.

Officers in the agency have also been known to fight boredom by falling asleep.  For more on how your tax dollars are used to fund their naptimes, click here