I spent Memorial Day Weekend in Chicago—it was my husband’s first long weekend since he started a new job in February and his favorite musician was playing in the city. We were both excited to spend some time away from our daily routine. It was also his first time in one of the largest metropolitan cities in the U.S., a big change from his two years in the college town where we both attended grad school.
During our visit, my husband, an Iranian immigrant, finally saw an American city that resembled the America on television and in movies—the diverse America that our industries like to market globally. But it was on our drive back to our suburban apartment that we saw the nightmarish version of America that is being made manifest by this new administration.
It was on April 20, 2017 that I first saw them—blending in with state highway patrol, dotting the turnpike’s landscape awaiting their prey—their green emblems on white SUVs and pick-ups indicative of a new era of surveillance. On the freeway, border patrol (CBP) officers were taking the place of state police.
Over the past five years, I have driven the stretch of I-80 that crosses through Ohio dozens of times, traveling between grad school and my hometown of Pittsburgh whenever possible. When my husband moved to Cleveland in February, my cross-state travel only increased, as I commuted on weekends from one side of the state to the other.
I had never seen them before—in my five years and countless commutes, this was the first time I had ever seen this nausea-inducing display of the new police state, one determined to infiltrate the most routine aspects of our everyday lives.
I panicked as I drove past the first vehicle. My husband had an appointment with USCIS that day—one that I was rushing to attend, to make sure he wasn’t deported like the countless other people who have been detained while attending routine check-ins. Thankfully my mom volunteered to go with him that day, giving me a small reprieve from the panic that increased as I passed three more CBP vehicles on my way to Cleveland. At first I thought that this was a raid for a particular person, but since that day, I have passed CBP vehicles on every trip I have taken across I-80, a total of six times.
It was during our drive home on Memorial Day though that I saw their overbearing power in action. As we were nearing a CBP vehicle, having already passed another, I noticed that a police car was sitting next to it. The police car pulled out immediately in front of us.
Again, I panicked. Our car is registered in my husband’s name—were they going to pull us over? The CBP vehicle followed the police, tailing a vehicle shortly ahead of us for nearly one mile before pulling it over. Tears welled in my eyes as I passed the vehicle, a minivan with a family inside. I didn’t know what to do—what could I do? Could I videotape this stop? I didn’t know. Even if I could, I probably wouldn’t have acted that day—my husband was in the passenger seat and he is now a person in perpetual danger from our new administrative regime.
Not knowing what to do motivated me to action, now realizing that these patrols are far more pervasive than I anticipated, even in this administrative era. In the aftermath of this trip, I want to offer some resources for readers who want to learn more and resist these aggressive CBP practices, too.
According to the ACLU, these “roving patrols” can only stop vehicles if there is “‘reasonable suspicion’ of an immigration violation or crime” and they “cannot search the interior of a vehicle without the owner’s consent or ‘probable cause,’” within 100 miles of any US border. Persons may videotape CBP interactions, but it is not advised to stop on a highway patrol like this—pulling over to the shoulder of a highway is permitted only during emergencies. But those inside vehicles stopped can videotape their interactions, except at ports of entry.
Like police, “it is illegal for CBP officers to base searches on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or sex.” Both citizens and non-citizens may request to have an attorney present if CBP officers ask any questions not pertaining to immigration.
Despite numerous complaints against CBP roving patrol stops, CBP limits data collection from these stops and the agency willfully avoids transparency, according to the ACLU. If you see aggressive tactics like these, however, one recourse is to submit complaints via the CBP Info Center or by calling 877-227-5511. If you live within the CPB 100 mile zone, you can also research immigration policies in your local municipality and encourage officials to adapt the ACLU’s “Freedom Cities” initiatives through the organization’s recently launched “People Power” platform.
To me, there is no question that this proliferation of roving patrols along Ohio’s interior is a response to the administration’s stance on immigration. Even though our federal courts have repeatedly declared Trump’s immigration-specific Executive Orders unconstitutional, branches of DHS have increased abrasive tactics and patrols—emboldened by a xenophobic and isolationist administration.