Guest editorial: A very wide border
Vermont’s congressional delegation this week released a joint statement expressing concern over upcoming operations with Vermont by the federal Border Patrol. That organization, overseen by Customs and Border Protection, watches over the boundary between Vermont and Canada and, since 1953, has operated up to 100 miles into the interior of the country.
That means every now and agenda we see border checkpoints in strange places — like on 1-91 near Windsor several years ago. (A similar incident happened in Addison County in which the Border Patrol arrested a local migrant worker and threatened to deport him leaving his wife and children behind, even though he had been here for several years.)
These types of interruptions to our lives seem small to most of us, but as cases have wended their ways through legal history, U.S. courts have empowered the Border Patrol to ignore certain constitutional protections.
The Fourth Amendment, for example, (was written to) protect us from abuse of power by the government, requiring specific criteria to be met in order for a government agency to legally search or seize our property. A policeman can’t (just) take your phone for no reasons and start digging around, but at the U.S. border that safety provision doesn’t apply.
Within the interior of the country, Border Patrol agents have more limited powers. However, the American Civil Liberties Unions, which tracks public corruption and abuse of powers, has cataloged a long history of behavior by the Border Patrol that is difficult to square with our rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.
As Vermonters, nearly the entirety of our state lies within that 100-mile zone. From Canada to Massachusetts, Vermont is about 160 miles long. The distance from the New Hampshire coast to our border isn’t quite 70 miles. That means there is just a small chunk in Vermont’s most southwest corner outside of the Border Patrol’s range.
In their statement, Senators Leahy and Sanders and Rep. Welch wrote, “We believe that inside our country the phrase ‘show me your papers,’ does not belong in the United States of America.”
In fact, the sentence sounds like it came directly out of any number of totalitarian regimes, whose influence U.S. citizens have exerted great effort to halt.
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