ACLU to Host Forum on "Constitution-Free" Zone Near Border That Allows Checkpoints

Border Patrol checkpoints and their impact on civil rights will be discussed at a forum next week in Green Valley hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The topic is a hot one in the southern Arizona community, where some residents have fought plans to install a permanent checkpoint on Interstate 19 near Tubac. But the checkpoints and the "Constitution-free" zone -- as the ACLU puts it -- that allows them received notoriety in the Valley after a local man was Tased at a checkpoint on Interstate 8 in April.

Those interested in the issue should check out our feature article from last year about that I-8 checkpoint, which focused on the thousands of small-time marijuana users being busted there thanks to a decades-old Supreme Court ruling. The Martinez-Fuerte decision allowed authorities to suspend normal Fourth Amendment rights within 100 miles of international borders.

The ACLU's news release follows:

ACLU Event in Green Valley Puts Spotlight on Border Checkpoints in "Constitution-Free Zone"

PHOENIX - The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona will host a community forum in Green Valley on July 16 to spotlight the civil liberties implications of border checkpoints within the emerging "Constitution-Free Zone" - a 100-mile wide strip that wraps around the "external boundary" of the United States where U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can exercise extraordinary authority that would not normally be permitted under the Constitution.

"Normally under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the American people are not generally subject to random and arbitrary stops and searches," said ACLU of Arizona Executive Director Alessandra Soler Meetze. "But there has always been this longstanding view that the normal rules do not apply within this vast 100-mile stretch near the border. The unfortunate reality for many Arizonans living far inland is that they're being stopped and harassed in ways that our Constitution does not permit."

The ACLU decided to host the event after receiving complaints about encounters with CBP near the temporary checkpoint along Interstate 19 at the northbound Agua Linda Road exit #42. CBP is planning to build a permanent checkpoint just south of there near milepost 41. Individuals who have had problems will speak at the event, as well as constitutional law experts who will be available to answer questions during an interactive "Know Your Rights" portion of the program.

The ACLU noted that although courts have permitted border checkpoints - legally speaking, they are "administrative" stops - they are permitted for the specific purpose of protecting the nation's borders. Those stops cannot be used to circumvent the requirements of individualized suspicion and probable cause that apply to routine drug searches and other law enforcement activities.

After 9/11, Congress gave the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the right to use some of its powers deeper within the country, and now DHS has set up at least 33 internal checkpoints where they stop people, question them and ask them to prove their citizenship. More recently, in response to the increasing concern regarding drug trafficking and arms smuggling, DHS announced that it is considering new initiatives to inspect southbound traffic to Mexico. DHS has also recently entered into memoranda of agreement with DEA and ATF to increase information sharing and enforcement efforts, including along the Southwest border.

"The continued expansion of law enforcement efforts along the Southwest border is of particular concern given the Government's broad interpretation of its power in the border region and the resulting negative effects on communities and individuals in these areas," added ACLU of Arizona Immigrant Rights Advocate Victoria Lopez, who will participate in the July 16th program.

WHAT: Event on the civil liberties implications of checkpoints within the emerging "Constitution-Free Zone"

WHO: Victoria Lopez, ACLU of Arizona Immigrant Rights Advocate, Margo Cowan, Defense Attorney in the Law Offices of the Pima County Public Defender and border policy victims.

WHERE: The Green Valley Library, 601 N La Canada Dr # 101, Green Valley, AZ 85614

WHEN: Thursday, July 16, 2009 from 3 to 5 p.m.

CONTACT: This event is free and open to the public. For information, call Addy Bareiss at 602-650-1854 ext. 115.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.