More checkpoints are the last thing our border communities need

More checkpoints are the last thing our border communities need
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As an Air Force veteran who grew up as a military brat and now lives in Washington state, and a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient and social justice organizer residing in San Diego, some may think we have little in common. But despite different backgrounds, we each share first-hand experience with the injustices and excesses that often define daily life in border communities across America. 

As Congress considers new legislative proposals to further militarize the border, we hope our stories offer a reminder why policies endorsing and augmenting border checkpoints and border agents are wasteful, intrusive, and unneeded.  They would harm the day-to-day lives of millions of people — immigrant and U.S. citizen alike.

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Our stories were two of those featured at a recent congressionally-sponsored forum about the realities of life in border communities. 

Rick’s story: After flying combat missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, I was stationed at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas, near the Mexican border. Each weekend, while driving from the base to where I owned property in San Antonio, I had to travel through a Border Patrol checkpoint.

It didn’t take long for me to recognize how wrong it felt to be consistently interrogated. And how, unconstitutionally, CBP was abusing what is supposed to be only a “brief immigration inquiry.” It felt like I was asking permission to travel in my own country despite being suspected of no crime.

One Veterans Day weekend, I was forced to exit my car because of a fabricated drug dog alert. I watched my car get ransacked and my property thrown onto the pavement. After this experience I installed cameras in my vehicle. It didn’t take long to capture an unconstitutional seizure, in which I was ordered out of my vehicle despite producing multiple document proving my U.S. citizenship. The agents unnecessarily called my military commander, and I was detained for thirty-four minutes.

Border checkpoints are the site of other troubling interactions. It pains me greatly to have seen American servicemen give their lives overseas to defend our constitutional rights, and then to watch these rights routinely violated, without accountability, at checkpoints. I also know that many in our country have to suffer these abuses constantly, and are intimidated against fighting back.

Jesus’s story: I am one of the 20 percent of DACA recipients who live in the border region. My family is also one of the hundreds of thousands of mixed status families who live in the southern borderlands. In the city of San Diego, where I live and where I graduated college, there are already are 3,000 CBP agents patrolling our communities — twice as many officers as in our city’s police force.

As border residents, we are too often the targets of unwarranted and subjective profiling and harassment by the Border Patrol while traveling to school, medical appointments, or to visit friends. This targeting includes my fellow DACA recipients and other young immigrants. 

In recent months, Border Patrol agents apparently retaliated against an outspoken Dreamer in Los Angeles; detained Jesus Vasquez after Texas state police pulled him over for tinted windows in El Paso, Texas; followed and subsequently detained 10-year-old Rosa Maria Hernandez, also in Texas; and have subjected DACA recipients to hours of intimidation at checkpoints located far into the interior. 

Now, in spending bills and negotiations over Dreamers’ futures, some are calling for more border agents, wasting money on physical barriers in service of Trump’s wall, and more border militarization that harms residents’ quality of life. As a border Dreamer, I think a legislative path forward that recognizes Dreamers’ enormous contributions to our communities must not be at the expense, financial and moral, of further abuses of my family and millions of others. That’s a false trade-off and a dangerous proposal that threatens to make the daily lives of border residents, including my parents, even more burdensome.

Vital protection and status for Dreamers should not be bartered for billions of dollars to feed a bloated border-industrial complex, when DHS itself says the border has never been harder to cross undetected. If the interior checkpoints are to remain at all, Congress should ensure that they are actually operated within the strict limits of the law. 

As Congress enters into important policy negotiations and deliberations in the coming days, we call on elected officials of both parties to recognize the realities of life in border communities across America and to appreciate how border checkpoints and Border Patrol agents already exact a tremendous toll on border residents.

Rick Rynearson is a military veteran living in Bainbridge Island, Wash, and the founder of Veterans Against Police Abuse. Jesus Daniel Mendez Carbajal is a DACA recipient living in San Diego. Both were speakers at a recent Washington, D.C., forum sponsored by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Congressional Border Caucus.