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Introduction of the Border Zone Reasonableness Restoration Act of 2018

Today, I am joining with Senator Murray in introducing the Border Zone Reasonableness Restoration Act of 2018.  This legislation, if enacted, will establish critical privacy protections for Americans by limiting the unjustifiably wide “border zone” within which Department of Homeland Security officers may – without a warrant – stop vehicles and search private land for the purpose of patrolling the border. 

The current 100-mile “border zone” was established through regulatory fiat. While the Fourth Amendment allows limited exceptions to the warrant requirement at or close to the border, this 100-mile zone is neither limited nor reasonable.  It includes marine borders.  At present, it encompasses almost two-thirds of the population of the United States. This includes major cities such as New York, Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans and Los Angeles, even the “border town” of Richmond, Virginia, as well as entire states such as Maine, Delaware and Florida.

The need for this legislation has never been clearer.  The Trump administration’s aggressive yet wasteful use of immigration enforcement resources has subjected law-abiding citizens to needless and intrusive searches at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) checkpoints far from the border.  Not only do these searches produce minimal value to border enforcement, they violate the constitutionally protected privacy of citizens and residents of border regions, including in my home state of Vermont.  Recently, CBP agents in Vermont have boarded Greyhound buses in Burlington without a warrant and inquired about the citizenship of passengers.  They have targeted international college students for questioning about their legal status.  In the nearby states of Maine and New Hampshire, they have shut down interstate highways with immigration checkpoints. In Montana, a CBP agent even stopped an American citizen simply for speaking Spanish.

This should not be a partisan issue. This is about ensuring that every person in this country receives the constitutional protections to which they are entitled. Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Cato Institute have sharply criticized these practices as problematic under the Fourth Amendment. Vermonters have rightly been concerned about these expanded border zone searches. They believe, as I do, that once inside our country the phrase “show me your papers” does not belong inside the United States of America.

The Border Zone Reasonableness Restoration Act is based on an amendment that Senator Murray and I successfully attached to immigration reform legislation in 2013 during the Obama Administration. The 100-mile “border zone” – and the similar 25-mile zone where many types of warrantless property searches are permitted – predates this current administration, but the actions of this administration have shown just how much we need legislation like this today. 

The Fourth Amendment does not stop 100 miles from our land and sea borders. Its protections extend whether in the heart of Kansas or in the middle of Vermont. Ensuring that the protections of the Fourth Amendment are available to everyone within the United States should be important to all of us, regardless of party or ideology. I hope all senators will support this commonsense measure to ensure the Fourth Amendment is upheld.

The Valley Reporter - serving Vermont's Mad River Valley since 1971