When the Border Patrol asks some privacy activists about their citizenship, they refuse to answer.

Others ask if they accidentally crossed the border, while others repeatedly ask the federal agents, "Am I being detained?"

These checkpoints are considered constitutional, but technically, you can’t be detained without suspicion, and the Border Patrol officers are required to let people go, even if they choose not to answer the question.

The videos show how concerns about privacy are a reason unto themselves to care about the way immigration policy is being executed in this country (regardless of what you think about the DREAM Act or guest workers).

2013-03-19

Co.Exist

"Are You An American Citizen?": Defying The Border Patrol In Viral Videos

Privacy activists near the Mexican border are refusing to answer the Border Patrol’s new version of "show us your papers," and putting the results of the encounter on YouTube to show others how to defend their rights.

"Are you an American citizen?" It’s a question you’ll hear uttered from the mouths of Border Patrol officers, who have taken to stopping drivers at checkpoints along the road throughout border states like Arizona. While most people simply say, "Yes" and move on with their lives, others refuse to answer, thereby exercising their right to remain silent and documenting their non-compliance with the Border Patrol’s hunt for undocumented immigrants in a series of YouTube Videos that are going viral.

With his camera phone trained on the federal agent, one activist replies "That’s my business" when asked about his citizenship. The moment, taken from a YouTube clip that’s aggregated some of the most outraged reactions from Border Patrol agents, has now been viewed more than 600,000 times since it was posted a few weeks ago. Other activists tell agents that they refuse to answer the question, some ask if they accidentally crossed the border, while others repeatedly ask the federal agents, "Am I being detained?"

These checkpoints are considered constitutional, but technically, you can’t be detained without suspicion, and the Border Patrol officers are required to let people go, even if they choose not to answer the question. But that doesn’t mean the agents won’t get exceedingly pissed off by drivers’ non-compliance and make absurd demands—like one agent’s ask to search someone’s trunk because his car was "dirty."

Immigration blog Fronteras recently spoke with Terry Bressi, an Arizonan who blogs about checkpoints and whose YouTube clips have been viewed nearly 2 million times. "It really is a smack across the face of any liberty loving American," Bressi told the blog, adding "My primary purpose in having the video cameras running while I’m going through a check point is not so I can have cool video to make for YouTube. It’s to protect myself legally.'"

But these anti-authoritarian videos are cool—partially because they expose how offensive this policy really is, partially because they show how citizen-media actually can be used to protect our basic rights, and partially because they show how concerns about privacy are a reason unto themselves to care about the way immigration policy is being executed in this country (regardless of what you think about the DREAM Act or guest workers).

You almost feel bad for the Border Patrol officers, whose jobs are asking them to intrude into the privacy of many law-abiding citizens each day and don’t seem to understand why any American would resist. As one agent tells Bressi, "All you have to do is say you’re a U.S. citizen and be on your way. Instead, you’re making a big deal about it."

But perhaps this is an issue we all should be making a "big deal" about.

[IMAGE: Spirit of America via Shutterstock]

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12 Comments

  • Glbartlette

    I
    love this 

    We
    live in Rosarito and have to cross back and forth frequently. What the hell
    business of the border patrol where you are coming from, what you were doing
    and where you are going. If you present a valid U.S. passport verifying citizenship,
    the dogs haven’t made a fuss at your vehicle you should be on your way! Have
    you ever seen the amount of wasted tax payer money at the border? four or five
    agents standing around openly just bull shiting and joking around while you
    wait for hours to cross. I have seen inspections where six agents are watching
    one search a vehicle in line holding the show up for thirty minutes or more for
    no reason other than training at least that’s what they told me when I asked. I
    could go on all day about this, it’s so screwed up. The guys that made these
    videos are my heroes love you guy’s thank you so much.

  • Patrick Crowley

    Get the word out about Nancy and Omar!  They are U.S. citizens who were arrested on 3/26 for refusing to answer Border Patrol questions at Brownsville Airport before a domestic flight. The harassment and intimidation has got to be stopped! Call D.A.'s office in Brownsville to get the charges against them dropped.

    http://omar-nancy.squarespace.... 

  • Roy Rogers

    the president's birth certificate is faker than a three dollar bill and we have to answer if we are citizens of our own country just to travel about on our own business? nazi germany n e one...all u have to say is if ur a jew or not and we will but this little star on ur chest and everything will be ok...its a simple question 

  • How in the hell can you possibly spit right-wrong and left-wrong bullshit in the same sentence? Really, people like you amaze me and make me ashamed to be American.

  • disqus_5KqOo2iJ7v

    Simple question...simple yes or no answer. What's the big? The only people who should have a problem with it are the ones who are here illegally.

  • Sfsldfsl

    First they came for the communists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

    Then they came for the socialists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

    Then they came for the Catholics,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Catholic.

    Then they came for me,
    and there was no one left to speak for me.

  • This is stupid as hell.

    It's not illegal to be a Communist.

    It's not illegal to be a Socialist.

    It's not illegal to be a Unionist.

    It's not illegal to be a Jew.

    It's not illegal to be a Catholic.

    It IS illegal to come into this country without going through the proper immigration process. This is why they're called ILLEGAL immigrants.

    Comparing what's legal to what's illegal makes for a stupid, stupid argument and holds ad much water as a colander.

  • Scott

    The fact of being stopped is more egregious than the questions.  When you get stopped, even at a checkpoint, you are in police custody.  That is intimidating to most people.  I applaud the guy who said NO to the request to search his trunk. If the officer had probable cause to search, he wouldn't need to ask the question. 

  • I absolutely agree about the refusal to check the trunk. No probable cause means don't do it. But these checkpoints in border areas are about as egregious to me as the DUI checkpoint I passed through last night. That is to say, not really egregious to me at all. The officer overreaction are but not the checkpoints.

  • Aaarrrg

    Everyone seems to try and make the Border Patrol out to be all racist white people when in fact the Patrol seems to have more Hispanic/Latino/Black/Asian individuals than White people. As a matter a fact the Hispanic/Latino individuals do better in the Patrol than others due to the lack of a language barrier. People who complain about the checkpoints and other patrols seem to imply that white Americans are not questioned and do not get caught breaking the law. I have seen the Patrol stop a White 71 year old grandmother with her grandchildren in her van and after being stopped and questioned found over 100lbs of pot hidden in her van and I have seen a 16 year old white female stopped and four Illegal Immigrants hidden in the back of the car. The checkpoints are a necessity due to the fact the border is so open. Due to terrain and distances between towns the Border Patrol cannot cover the whole border and the smugglers and Immigrants are willing to travel deep into the desert and risk their lives the Patrol has to have a way to monitor the main pipelines into the interior of the country. One other point, Mexicans are not the only group crossing the Mexican Border. A high number of Romanians, Asians, Middle Eastern and other South American Countries are crossing also due to the ease of entering Mexico. Most from the Middle East and Europe enter Mexico legally with passports but cannot enter the United States legally. 

    P.S. I am a White American and so is my wife and I am stopped and questioned every time. This response is directed more to NGA not ARIZONAHOSS.  

  • Nga

    The offense lies in WHO is being asked because we should know damn well not everyone is getting their privacy invaded.