The American Civil Liberties Union is asking the Homeland Security Department's office of inspector general to investigate Border Patrol roving patrols in southern Arizona. The ACLU will file its letter Thursday to the DHS Office of Inspector General, the Justice Department and the DOJ Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
The move comes on the heels of a settlement over the roving patrols that was reached in Washington state two weeks ago. Customs and Border Protection, the umbrella agency which manages the Border Patrol, did not admit to wrongdoing in that case. But it did agree to train agents on constitutional protections against illegal stops and it agreed it to turn over all its traffic stop information in that sector for the next year and a half.
In the 14-page report, U.S. citizens told the ACLU about agents stopping them on public roads without reason. Others complained about agents accusing them of being smugglers, and refusing to identify themselves when asked for their names.
In a 2011 Cochise County case, Suzanne Aldridge said a man in plainclothes pulled her over and questioned her. After he asked to search her car, Aldridge said, she grew worried for her safety and drove to a public lot. At that point, Border Patrol agents in uniform arrived. They forcibly dragged her from her car and cuffed her and, according to the letter, "the same agent patted her down, groping her and touching her breasts."
She said she was held in a Border Patrol truck while a drug-sniffing dog inspected her vehicle without her consent. A local police officer who knew her finally arrived and made the agents let her go. Nobody ever told her the plainclothes agent's name. She was told her license plate matched one of a vehicle that agents knew was smuggling drugs in from Mexico. Finally, she said she was told to file a complaint online about the stop but never received a response.
Complaints of surveillance and roving patrols are nothing new to the border region. In May, Jim McManus of Arivaca, Ariz., told the Fronteras Desk about his issues with federal agents openly surveilling him from nearby hilltops while he works on his farm.
In the Washington-area settlement, CBP agreed that agents must have reasonable suspicion of a violation of the law. That question is now being brought to Arizona.