Friday, January 22, 2010
Watch out, "Big Brother" is checking you out!

Butch Meriwether
Butch's Brew

I’m a very staunch supporter of law enforcement in general and am thankful for their role in our communities across this great nation. I believe that their work, for  the most part, is a thankless job and they are normally taken for granted. They work long hours – sometimes upward of 12-hour shifts - and their pay isn’t up to the standards or level of their responsibilities.

Thousands of men and women put on the uniforms of the various law enforcement agencies and perform their duties to the best of their ability without even getting a “thank you.” They put their lives on the line each day, and only when the times come when they are needed to help out in a situation of protecting or saving someone’s life, are they given the kudos they so justly deserve.

Because of the heightened security in our nation, some law enforcement agencies have taken their responsibilities and jobs to an all new high. Being self-induced or directed by higher-ups, some of their missions have expanded, new geographical areas have been added and they have assumed more responsibilities.

An example is a very good friend of mine. His wife and their 16-year-old daughter were returning from Yuma, where they had just spent the weekend visiting his father. My friend was driving their non-descript compact family car and it had Arizona license plates on it.

As they traveled northbound, they chatted together, reminisced about their visit with his father and how they were looking forward to getting back to their home in Kingman.

About 50 miles north of Yuma on the road that intersects with Interstate 10 at Quartzsite, the sleepy little town only 20 miles east of the Colorado River in the middle of desert where hundreds of thousands of snowbirds flock to during the winter months, my friend and his family came across a Border Patrol checkpoint. Every vehicle traveling northbound was required to stop, and there was a very long line of drivers in vehicles waiting their turn to be questioned.

When it was my friend’s turn to stop at the checkpoint, after waiting a long time in the line behind numerous vehicles, one of the uniformed Border Patrol officers stepped up to the driver’s window of his car and started questioning him as another uniformed officer walked around his car with a K-9.

The uniformed officer asked him and his family where they were coming from, where they were heading and a few other superfluous questions that my friend believed should not be asked of an American citizen who had done nothing wrong.

My friend said that even though he isn’t a terrorist, isn’t an illegal alien traveling into the interior of the United States looking for employment and isn’t smuggling drugs or explosives, he felt intimidated and chose to answer the questions put forth to him by the Border Patrol agent. He said he did this because he didn’t want the Border Patrol agent dragging him and his family out of their car and having them undergo more interrogation as if he and his family were common criminals. He also thought that it was interesting that the uniformed officer had the K-9 sniffing around his car and wondered if the K-9 was attempting to locate illegal aliens hiding in the trunk. On second thought, he figured the dog was either looking for illegal drugs or explosives.

He thought to himself that if his family wasn’t with him and he was asked about his travels, he probably would have pointed south from where he had come from and said, “I came from there,” pointed toward the north and he would have said, “I’m going there.” However, my friend said that discretion is the better part of valor, and yes, he didn’t want his family having to be subjected to bouts of unnecessary interrogation and have his vehicle torn apart by the uniformed officers.

Another example of the Border Patrol possibly being overzealous or assuming new geographical areas of responsibility is just north of I-40 on Highway 93. A couple of times each month, it appears to be a Border Patrol convention in the Kingman area. As you travel north out of Kingman on Highway 93, drivers can spot Border Patrol units parked in just about every gas station, and at least four units parked in one of the motel parking lots. The units in the motel parking lot are backed in and their headlights are on high beams shining into the street. Their lights are almost blinding to the drivers of the vehicles that happen to be passing by.

On one particular night, a 45-year-old woman I know was heading home from work on Highway 93 just north of I-40 and happened to be driving directly behind an ordinary white van in the slow lane. As she and the white van approached the location where the Border Patrol units were parked in the motel, another Border Patrol unit that had been parked in an adjacent gas station pulled out onto Highway 93 at a high rate of speed, cutting her off and almost causing a wreck. She said that if she had not been paying as much attention as she was, her car would have slammed into the driver’s side of the Border Patrol unit.

After almost causing a wreck, the Border Patrol unit moved into the fast lane (without signaling) and drove past the white van in front of her. As the Border Patrol unit got past the white van, the agent again changed lanes (again without signaling) and ended up driving in front of the van. As soon as he got into the slow lane, the Border Patrol agent initiated his overhead emergency lights and stopped in the middle of the road. When this occurred, my woman friend signaled and got into the fast lane so she could continue home and not be stuck behind the white van. Not a moment or two later, at least two more Border Patrol units arrived on scene with their overhead emergency lights flashing and stopped directly behind the white van.

Was the aforementioned incident a prime example of the Border Patrol conducting illegal profiling because the vehicle in front of my friend was a van and they figured they would check it out to see if it was full of terrorists, explosives, illegal aliens or illegal drugs? Did the Border Patrol honestly have a viable tip that someone was using this particular white van transiting through Kingman with a load of illegal contraband? We will probably never know.

I understand that Thomas John Baker, the 36-year-old Kingman resident, probably wasn’t thinking real clear and wasn’t too smart when he drove up to a Border Patrol checkpoint with 163 pounds of marijuana in the trunk of his black Toyota Camry. He was engaged in an illegal activity and deserves to spend time in prison. Not only did he attempt to run, he thought he could hide behind a small bush and be undetectable by the perusing law enforcement personnel. Besides that, when is the last time someone ran and was fast enough to outrun a radio?

If I were a smuggler of explosives, illegal aliens or illegal drugs, I know I would be more cognizant of my surroundings, and the locations of where the Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies had checkpoints set up.

Are we, as American citizens, so naïve to believe the individuals smuggling explosives, illegal aliens and illegal drugs can’t figure out how to get through Arizona and on into Nevada without having to travel the main road from Yuma through Quartzsite, through Lake Havasu City and to I-40. They normally will not drive along the main roads. There are numerous dirt roads north of the Yuma Proving Grounds and Wintehaven, Calif., that a person can get from Southern Arizona or Southern California into the interior of Arizona and all points further north.

I’ve travelled roads from I-8 and onto Highway 95 from Brawley, Calif., that ultimately end up at I-40 and Needles, Calif. Ask just about any off-roader and you will learn about the many ways to get from the Yuma area and into Northern Arizona and Nevada without having to drive the major byways. No, I am not going into great detail as to where to drive to avoid law enforcement checkpoints. I would never want to provide a terrorist, illegal alien or drug smuggler a “roadmap” or “how-to manual” of law enforcement avoidance procedures.

Besides that, if I were smuggling explosives, illegal aliens or illegal drugs, I would have a “point vehicle” traveling in the same direction as me and they would be positioned at least ten to fifteen miles out in front me. I would also be in constant radio or cellular telephone communication with the driver of the point vehicle, and if they happened upon a checkpoint, he or she would immediately call and alert me. That way, I would turn around, go a different direction (alternate route planning is always good thing) or wait until the checkpoint was shut down. Remember, most of the checkpoints are never operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I understand our government and its various agencies are “gun shy” since Sept. 11, 2001, and they look at just about every one of us as a potential terrorist. We must ask ourselves, are we now residing in a police state that we have to, as it occurred during World War II Europe, explain where we are coming from and where we are going? And is the next step for the United States government is to issue all American citizens an internal-passport or identification card to be utilized inside the confines of our own country? Is it finally going to occur where we will have to receive permission to travel from Point A to Point B?

I know that during the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the United States Border Patrol, along with the Immigration and Naturalization Service inspection division, the U.S. Customs inspection division, and the Department of Agriculture’s plant and animal inspection service were combined to make a new agency called U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

I think it is interesting that when you trek into California from Arizona on I-40 or I-8 and also travel west from Parker heading toward California, you have to stop at one of the so-called agricultural inspection stations. The officials there always ask where you are coming from and if you have any plants, fruits or vegetables. I personally haven’t gone through one of these inspection stations lately so I can’t say if they are now asking if you are a terrorist, are transporting explosives, illegal aliens or illegal drugs. However, if you are heading east in a vehicle other than a semi-truck or commercial vehicle, you are not required to stop at an inspection station. That always seems like a paradox to me. Just because there is an inspection station for people driving in a westerly direction, I guess they believe the fruit flies or other bugs they are looking for are not capable of flying right past them; they can only hitch a ride in a vehicle. And besides that, I guess terrorists and individuals transporting explosives, illegal aliens and illegal drugs don’t travel in an easterly direction.

Traditionally, the mission of the Border Patrol has always been the detection and prevention of the illegal entry of aliens and smuggling of illegal contraband into the United States anywhere other than at a designated port-of-entry. However, with terrorism occurring within the confines of our nation, the Border Patrol has added a new and high priority mission; to detect and prevent the entry of terrorists and their weapons into the United States.

Basically, what that means is they are supposed to stop illegal aliens, illegal contraband and terrorists at the border. Are they able to accomplish this responsibility and stem the flow of illegal activities at the border? It is obvious they are not because their mission has increased in recent years. The Border Patrol now must operate within the interior of United States — monitoring roads and even some airports where illegal aliens concentrate. Oh my God, I bet they also monitor Home Depot and Lowe’s Home Improvement Center parking lots where Hispanic men and women wait for someone to come by and hire them. Are all of these day laborers legally in the United States? Probably not. This is mainly due to the Border Patrol failing to curtail the flow of illegal aliens, illegal drugs and possibly terrorists from crossing at the border itself.

It is easier to fight “your enemy” at the perimeter instead of inside your lines. I believe the Border Patrol needs to attack the illegal alien and drug smuggling problems aggressively at our first line of defense – our borders. Keep these individuals from getting into our country, keeping them from traveling into the far reaches of Arizona, Nevada and into other areas of the United States.

And last but not least, stop treating our ordinary citizens as if they are criminals and stop the illegal activities at the border!

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