'I don't think it's right'; ACLU files complaint, alledging abuse at Border Patrol checkpoints
By Maggie Vespa. CREATED Jan 16, 2014
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - You've heard these claims before. YouTube is full of them. They are the claims of rights being stripped away in the search for cross-border crime.
Now protocol at U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints is under fire, once again, in Southern Arizona.
Leading the charge? The Arizona ACLU.
Border Patrol protocol states, checkpoint stops should be brief and pertain only to establishing citizenship, unless an agent has reasonable suspicion a crime has been committed.
The Arizona ACLU claims those rules have gone out the window.
"I don't think it's right, the way they treat people," said Julia Turner.
Thursday night, the 20 year-old did what she's done every night after work for years
"They ask me if i'm a US citizen. I always answer 'Yes,'" she said.
Though she says the trip through this Highway 80 checkpoint near Tombstone hasn't always been so smooth.
"They went through the glove box and just took it all out of there," said Turner.
In two years, Turner says Border patrol agents stopped and unsuccessfully searched her car 15 times, usually citing an alert from a drug sniffing K-9.
"Do you keep drugs in your trunk?" asked 9OYS reporter Maggie Vespa.
"No," said Turner.
"Are you a threat?" asked Vespa.
"I'm not a threat," said Turner.
She blames her race.
She's not alone.
"All of them were subjected to extended prolonged detentions, in some cases unlawful searches, verbal and physical abuse," described James Lyall, attorney for the ACLU.
Wednesday Lyall brought Turner's story, plus those of 14 others, to the Department of Homeland Security.
ACLU attorney James Lyall.
"When people assert their rights, all too often we additional abuses being piled on," he said.
One man claims, when he refused to confirm or deny having weapons in his car, an agent put a gun in his face.
The Tombstone spot is one of six Arizona checkpoints in question.
Lyall and Turner believe that proves the problem is widespread.
We reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Deputy director of the Media Division Jenny Burke sent us a statement, which reads:
"CBP Officers and Border Patrol Agents enforce the nation's laws while preserving the civil rights and civil liberties of all people with whom CBP personnel interact. Our officers and agents are trained to recognize people and situations that present a potential threat or violation of law without regard to race. CBP does not tolerate racial profiling or agent misconduct and appropriately investigates allegations of wrongdoing.
Border Patrol traffic checkpoints are a critical enforcement tool for carrying out the mission of securing our nation's borders against transnational threats. Checkpoints deny major travel routes from the borders to smugglers intent on delivering people, drugs and other contraband to the interior of the United States and allow the Border Patrol to establish an important second layer of defense."