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What Happens If You Don’t Cooperate At Inland Check Points?

Above: When a driver approaches a Border Patrol checkpoint, the drill is to pull off the highway, wait in line, and then a Border Patrol agent will ask, “Are you an American citizen?” This driver refuses to answer the question. Credit: Screen grab from YouTube video: "Top DHS check point refusals"

Aired 3/7/13 on KPBS Midday Edition.


David Martin Davies, news director, Texas Public Radio

David Loy, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in San Diego and Imperial Counties.


KPBS Evening Edition

ACLU on Check Points

David Loy, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in San Diego and Imperial Counties, talks to KPBS


Aired 3/7/13

If you drive across the American Southwest, near the Mexico border, you are likely to encounter a Border Patrol checkpoint. But what happens if you refuse to answer the questions border patrol agents are asking?


U.S. Customs and Border Protection Statement

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Statement

A statement from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

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— If you drive across the American Southwest, near the Mexico border, you are likely to encounter a Border Patrol checkpoint. These roadside stations are set up to check immigration status.

What happens next is an open question.

When a driver approaches a Border Patrol checkpoint, the drill is to pull off the highway, wait in line, and then a Border Patrol agent will ask, “Are you an American citizen?”

If you answer “yes," in most instances you’ll soon be back on the road.

But what happens if you refuse to answer?

That’s what some people are doing and their videos are a YouTube sensation. It’s not quite the Harlem Shake, but motorists who shake off questions from Border Patrol agents, are seeing their videos go viral.

One video showing a compilation of refusals has more than 400,000 views since it was posted just over a month ago. The montage of checkpoint stops all show drivers refusing to answer the Border Patrol’s favorite question: Are you an American citizen?

Terry Bressi lives in Southern Arizona and has videotaped about 250 checkpoint experiences where he's refused to answer Border Patrol questions. “It really is a smack across the face of any liberty loving American," said Bressi, who writes the blog

Although Bressi has posted several of his check point videos on Youtube, he says the purpose of recording his interaction is protection.

“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," said Bressi.

Bressi claims without the videotape the Border Patrol agents would be free to invent probable cause and detain him simply because they don’t like his attitude.

Adriana Pinon, a lawyer for the ACLU, says these YouTube videos show what happens when people exercise one of their fundamental rights.

“One always has the right to remain silent. So in the video you do see people asserting that right and an individual has a constitutional right to remain silent even at a check point," said Pinon.

The Border Patrol would not comment for this story but said most Americans cooperate at the checkpoint and there’s no indication of a growing number of people refusing to answer their questions.

The real issue here is a dispute over whether or not these checkpoints violate the U.S. Constitution. The Border Patrol says they do not, and Pinon agrees.

“The courts have decided that because they are such a brief intrusion upon a person’s liberty, privacy and interests that it is constitutional," she said.

But Bressi disputes that. He claims the checkpoints are unconstitutional because the Supreme Court ruled they should be used only for immigration purposes.

He believes the question — “are you an American citizen?” — is actually a ruse used by the Border Patrol to get drivers to stop, be scanned, tracked, recorded and sniffed by drug dogs, which he said are all violations of the Constitution.

“It’s not border security, it's internal security," Bressi said.


Top DHS checkpoint refusals

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve changed the headline to clarify these check points take place within the United States — not at the ports of entry at the U.S.-Mexico Border. In addition we removed a line from the story that said that each driver that confronted the Border Patrol was allowed to drive away. In fact some of the videos show officers taking a more aggressive response.

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Avatar for user 'jenjen'

jenjen | March 7, 2013 at 11:44 a.m. ― 4 years ago

Someone trying to sneak in wouldn't draw attention to themselves by assertively refusing to answer questions, citing constitutional verbiage and filming it all, so obviously the folks that do must be citizens. Which now creates a perfect strategy. See how we ruin things?

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | March 7, 2013 at 12:29 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Lets see. Do I want to be harassed for hours and hours and possibly killed by some bully with a badge just because I like being a little jerk? Or should I just tell the person protecting the border that I am American so he can see if I sound Mexican or not?

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Avatar for user 'NanaT'

NanaT | March 7, 2013 at 12:36 p.m. ― 4 years ago

If, as indicated, the proponent is a right-winger, isn't he from the same group that would be in support of stopping latinos without any cause but their skin color to "protect our borders"?

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Avatar for user 'mclanea'

mclanea | March 7, 2013 at 1:21 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Thanks for posting this. Certainly lots to think about. I find it interesting that the length of a personal violation of privacy is seen as prudent and acceptable by the courts.

Is this like the TSA? It just makes travelers feel safe when, in fact, it is doing little?

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 7, 2013 at 2:03 p.m. ― 4 years ago

JEN, the nativist poster that got permanently banned from the KFMB website. Just an FYI for everyone.

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Avatar for user 'jenjen'

jenjen | March 7, 2013 at 2:22 p.m. ― 4 years ago

What JEN are you referring to? It ain't me, I know that much. ???

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Avatar for user 'jimbetty'

jimbetty | March 7, 2013 at 3:33 p.m. ― 4 years ago

This is not a new question by the Border Patrol. When I was a child at least 60 years
ago our family visited Mexico. I remember sitting in the car in a long time while the street vendors tried to catch our attention to sell wares. After what seemed a long time, everyone in the car was asked individuallty if they were an American citizen. We were always happy to answer yes and glad to get home.

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | March 7, 2013 at 4:03 p.m. ― 4 years ago

You haven't lived until you've been messed with by CBP officers. Even the most clean-cut, respectful and respectful-looking American will have some bad encounters. There are lots of bad officers out there who REALLY don't like their jobs.

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Avatar for user 'MaoTzu'

MaoTzu | March 7, 2013 at 8:08 p.m. ― 4 years ago

My experience here in San Diego County is a bit different than that of the people in the article.

I go out to the Anza Borrego State Park for camping quite often. On County Highway 2 heading north from Ocotillo there is one of these check points just before you enter the park. It seems that every time I go through there I'm harassed by the Border Patrol. They don't ask me my citizenship but where I'm going and where I'm coming from. If I state to them that I am a private citizen on my own business which is no business of theirs I am sure to be pulled over for at least 20 minutes and told that I'm being investigated for border violations when I ask them if I can leave.

This is in a car loaded with obvious camping equipment maybe 100 yards from the State Park. It's gotten to the point that to avoid these confrontations, I'll drive there by way of Julian. I truly wish someone would do something about these thugs.

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Avatar for user 'Gravity_Boy'

Gravity_Boy | March 8, 2013 at 1:33 p.m. ― 4 years ago

As a veteran and after taking the oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America, I read that document. Using the information gleaned from time in American History class and history in general, I understood what the framers were attempting to do with the Constitution and the Amendments.

The stopping at the border patrol to be searched by dogs is Unconstitutional, but then so it the searches at the airport. I am shamed to know that so many Americans feel it necessary to forgo their rights, to forsake the Constitution because they "Don't want to be harassed."

I am proud of Terry Bressi for standing up to his rights as an American citizen under the law of our Constitution, those of you who think his actions are a waste, my service to this nation includes you even though your service is weak, those who fill the graves at Arlington and other places served you as well.

The Fourth Amendment was to protect against actions like those of the government of King George, actions employed against the colonists, by stopping their movement, inspecting their goods and confiscating materials; a form of control over the citizenry.

Has it gotten so bad here that we should trust others for our rights?

The only thing that has kept the people safe in this nation is our laws, not the military, but the laws which define our society. If the laws look like fascism, then that is what we have, if the laws look like feudalism then that is what we have.

The shame I see is how many people get down on the true hero who defends the laws at his own peril.

If the actions of our government increases their power over the people, then this is not actions of Patriots, and their loyalty to the Constitution and to the people should be questioned vigorously!

A Note to Border Patrol agents at these checkpoints, please read the Constitution, with a mind on the history of man. Understand that even if it is under orders from your superiors, the Constitution is the highest law in our country and without a Constitutional amendment ratified by two thirds of the states, the laws of this document cannot be changed, and ignorance is no excuse, nor is fear.

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Avatar for user 'Really123'

Really123 | March 8, 2013 at 2:28 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Gravity Boy. How old are you? Because I remember a time, oh twelve years ago or so, that every mom and apple pie loving conservative was in favor of these screenings at the airport AND of listening in on your telephone conversations. All I heard was "..well if you have nothing to hide, then you don't have anything to worry about..." When I complained about these issues to co-workers, I was told I should be taken to an island off shore and shot as a traitor.

Forgive me if I find people like Terry a big fat hypocrite. I hope his butt gets thrown in jail so he has some time to think about all his probable contradictory beliefs.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | March 14, 2013 at 12:07 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Just a comment to those planning a household move. If you have all of your personal belongings in a moving truck, that is considered your home. You do not have to open that truck for anyone without an official search warrant. I was even advised at our first weigh station that we were not required to stop there. I drove cross country having only stopped that one time. I did not open that truck for any checkpoint after I informed them I was in the process of moving from point A to point B.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 14, 2013 at 1:31 p.m. ― 4 years ago

REALITY123 you mean right after September 11th???

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