Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), joined by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), today introduced legislation to narrow the broad zone of DHS authority in the vicinity of U.S. borders.
Under current regulations, the Department of Homeland Security has wide latitude to conduct traffic stops and warrantless property searches within 100 miles of the U.S. border. Two out of every three Americans live within this border enforcement zone.
"We must strike a better balance between protecting our national security and preserving our constitutional rights. A 100-mile unfettered enforcement zone is overly broad and unduly restricts the constitutional rights to privacy and protection against warrantless searches of millions of Americans living in this zone," said Welch. "This commonsense legislation will enable authorities to conduct the important work of protecting our borders while ensuring our civil liberties."
"When two-thirds of Americans live 100-miles from the border, it doesn't make any sense for immigration agents to stop and question people's citizenship status far from the point of entry. Not only are warrantless searches hours away from the border a waste of resources, they spread fear in peaceful communities and infringe on my constituents' rights to be free from unwarranted searches," said Pingree. "I hope we can pass this bill and strike a reasonable balance between upholding the constitutional rights of Mainers and securing our borders."
Recent news reports point to an increase in cases where American citizens are being asked about their citizenship within the 100-mile border zone. In May, federal agents boarded multiple Amtrak trains and Greyhound buses in Vermont, far from the Canadian border, to question passengers about their citizenship. None of these trains or buses were scheduled to cross the international border. And just last month in eastern Maine, a federal roadblock was set up for 11 days on Interstate 95.
The Border Zone Reasonableness Restoration Act would:
Reduce the area in which DHS can stop vehicles from 100 miles to 25 miles
Limit the zone in which DHS officers can search private lands, except houses, from 25 miles to 10 miles
Prohibit DHS from stopping vehicles at checkpoints further than 10 miles from the border without reasonable suspicion that an occupant is in the country illegally.
The legislation is cosponsored in the House by Reps. McGovern (D-Mass.), Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), Gutierrez (D-Ill.), and DelBene (D-Wash.). Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have introduced companion legislation in the Senate.