The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona claims Border Patrol agents are harassing residents in southern Arizona, often far from the border.
The ACLU has sent a letter to federal investigators, outlining some of the allegations, and asking for an investigation into "roving patrols" by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.
In addition to unlawful vehicle stops, the ACLU has documented cases in which Border Patrol agents have interrogated pedestrians on the streets of Yuma and Tucson as well as patients in Tucson area hospitals," ACLU staff attorney James Lyall says in the letter. "Last year, a Sunnyside High School student in Tucson was wrongfully handed over to Border Patrol agents by school officials for investigation of his immigration status. The picture that emerges from these incidents and years of litigation is of pervasive abuse and a systemic failure of oversight and accountability at all levels of CBP.
In one case, a citizen says she was driving her young children home from school in a town not far outside of Tucson when she was pulled over by Border Patrol, and threatened with a Taser for being "difficult." They then left her on the side of the road with a flat tire, which just so happened to go flat during the stop.
Another U.S. citizen claims she was pulled over on the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation -- where she's lived almost her entire life -- and was pulled from her car, which was searched without consent by agents, the woman contends. She was detained for 90 minutes while agents apparently searched for drugs that didn't exist, according to the letter.
Yet another U.S. citizen, who lives in Oregon, says he was visiting the Fort Bowie National Historic Site, when a park ranger started questioning him. Border Patrol was called in, and agents sent in the drug-sniffing dog, which ripped up his car, he says. Again, no drugs were found, and the man had to pay for car repairs out of his own pocket.
More citizens, from Benson and Bisbee, also allege being detained and searched for no reason.
"Although the circumstance varied, the factors that would support a lawful stop were absent or weighed against an intrusive investigatory stop because they applied to a large category of innocent travelers," the ACLU's letter says. "However, one factor in particular stands out: None of the stops occurred in close proximity to the border, and most were close to populated areas where the volume of legitimate travelers was extremely high."
The letter continues:
In the five cases presented herein, respectively, the stops occurred approximately 40, 50, 60, 60, and 8 miles north of the border. In none of these situations did Border Patrol have any indication that the vehicles came from the border. Nor were other factors present to suggest that any of the individuals stopped were engaged in illegal activity or fit a profile other than one applicable to a large category of innocent travelers. In each of these instances, U.S. citizens were subjected to stops unsupported by reasonable suspicion, in some cases followed by unlawful searches, extended detention, excessive use of force, or destruction of personal property.
The ACLU letter also states many Latinos appear to have been pulled over and interrogated by Border Patrol for no other reason than their perceived race.
The ACLU points to court cases, including the Melendres v. Arpaio racial-profiling case, as to why that's illegal.
To add insult to injury, the ACLU says that CBP and the Department of Homeland Security were mostly non-responsive to the above complaints.
The ACLU's asking for an investigation of the individuals involved in the above-mentioned incidents, as well as CBP's practices as a whole.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Send feedback and tips to the author.
Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.