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Stopped and Searched without a warrant, it can happen anywhere in Michigan

Stopped and Searched without a warrant, it can happen anywhere in Michigan. (WWMT/File)

Anyone in Michigan can be stopped and searched without a warrant at any time by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

The federal agency considers the Great Lakes an international border, which means the entire state lies within the 100-mile border zone. Congress granted CBP power that extends beyond what local law enforcement can do within the so-called border zone.

“We don't think that you get to have a constitution-free state,” said Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan.

Unlike Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which investigates and arrests people who are in the country illegally, CBP is charged with protecting our nation's borders.

CBP reported 310,531 apprehensions nationwide in fiscal year 2017.

The Detroit branch recorded at little more than 1,000 apprehensions and arrested individuals from 55 different countries.

“It doesn't make sense in Grand Rapids, it doesn't make sense in Kalamazoo, it doesn't make sense in Lansing; they’re not powers that belong in our community,” Aukerman said.

It’s still unclear where CBP makes stops and conducts warrantless searches in the state. CBP redacted location information from its reports sent to the ACLU in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request filed in 2015.

In late-November a federal judge ordered CBP to release location information and 33,000 pages of reports to the ACLU of Michigan.

Based on the reports out now, the ACLU says the data strongly suggests CBP agents use racial profiling to make stops and conduct searches in Michigan. The ACLU also claims the reports show state and local law enforcement agencies call in border patrol to conduct warrantless searches.

Reports obtained by the ACLU show 82 percent of foreign citizens stopped by CBP in Michigan are Latino. The ACLU also says its analysis of the reports found almost 1 in 3 people processed by CBP are U.S. citizens.

That's why Elvira Hernandez won’t leave home without her passport.

“Carrying around my passport is my safety blanket,” she said.

Hernandez was born in a Mexico border city and came to America at the age of four. She became a U.S. citizen in 1994.

“I have the image of not being American,” Hernandez said.

The office manager at the ACLU of Michigan office in Grand Rapids, Hernandez is the mother of four children. She said her son who had a lighter skin tone doesn’t understand the need to keep her passport on hand.

“My response is I’m brown,” Hernandez said. “I may look to somebody like I just don’t belong.”

In a written statement to Newschannel 3, CBP Public Affairs Officer Kris Grogan wrote, “It is the policy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to prohibit the consideration of race or ethnicity in law enforcement, investigation, and screening activities, in all but the most exceptional circumstances.”

According to the ACLU, 63 percent of people detained were first stopped by state or local law enforcement. Drivers pulled over for a cracked windshield, broken tail light, or driving too slow on a flat tire, according to CBP reports.

“There is a lot of collusion happening between local law enforcement and CBP,” Aukerman said.

The agency's reports show border agents are often called in by local officers to translate. Aukerman said she believes that’s just an excuse to bring in border patrol agents. Newschannel 3 also found reports in which the reason for the federal agency's involvement in the traffic stop is unclear.

Aukerman said, “If you do something wrong that's one thing but if you're just being pulled over for no reason and your car, your vehicle is being searched, that's really, really problematic.”

According to a CBP report, five undocumented immigrants were arrested on the east side of the state after an off-duty agent overheard the men ordering breakfast at McDonald’s in broken English.

The agent wrote in the report that the language barrier seen at the counter raised suspicions to stop and question the men who admitted they were in the country illegally.

Interactions like that, Hernandez said, make immigrant communities scared to call for help or report crimes.

“My mother has been lawful since the late 80's and she's terrified of law enforcement not that she's done anything wrong it's just that mentality of you'll be detained,” Hernandez said.

She added the Latino community in West Michigan, regardless of legal status, is increasingly afraid of border agents and local police who call them in.

“You're using powers that were meant for one purpose and taking them some place else entirely at tremendous cost to both immigrant families and U.S. citizens who are stopped, who are racially profiled as a result of what this agency is doing in the middle of our communities,” Aukerman said.

A bill proposed in the U.S. Senate would shrink the nations border zone from 100 to 25 miles.

Although most Border Patrol work is conducted in the immediate border area, the statement from CBP said, “agents have broad law enforcement authorities and are not limited to a specific geography within the United States. They have the authority to question individuals, make arrests, and take and consider evidence.”

Read the full statement from U.S. Customers and Border Protection:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has three separate law enforcement components which operate throughout the state of Michigan. We have the Office of Field Operations which operates at our nation’s Ports of Entry (one of which is in Grand Rapids). The United States Border Patrol which operates between our Ports of Entry and Air and Marine Operations which operates in the air and on the Great Lakes which border Michigan.
I believe your questions are directly related to the U.S. Border Patrol I can tell you that for decades, the U.S. Border Patrol has been performing enforcement actions away from the immediate border in direct support of border enforcement efforts and as a means of preventing trafficking, smuggling and other criminal organizations from exploiting our public and private transportation infrastructure to travel to the interior of the United States. These operations serve as a vital component of the U.S. Border Patrol’s national security efforts.
Although most Border Patrol work is conducted in the immediate border area, agents have broad law enforcement authorities and are not limited to a specific geography within the United States. They have the authority to question individuals, make arrests, and take and consider evidence. The Immigration and Nationality Act 287(a)(3) and 8 USC 1357 state that Immigration Officers, without a warrant, may "within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States...board and search for aliens in any vessel within the territorial waters of the United States and any railcar, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle”. 8 CFR 287 (a)(1) defines reasonable distance as 100 air miles from the border
In regards to your question about racial profiling It is the policy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to prohibit the consideration of race or ethnicity in law enforcement, investigation, and screening activities, in all but the most exceptional circumstances. As such, CBP is fully committed to the fair, impartial and respectful treatment of all members of the trade and traveling public. More information in regards to our policy can be found here: https://www.cbp.gov/about/eeo-diversity/policies/nondiscrimination-law-enforcement-activities-and-all-other-administered
Additionally in fiscal year 2017 U.S. Border Patrol agents assigned to the Detroit Sector arrested individuals from 55 different countries. The arrest totals for 2018 should be available soon, and I will be happy to share them. I can tell you that we have seen a significant increase in the number of nationalities.
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