Sometimes you really do need a map if you want to know where you are. In 2008, the ACLU issued just such a map of this country and it’s like nothing ever seen before. Titled “the Constitution-Free Zone of the United States,” it traces our country’s borders. Maybe you’re already tuning out. After all, you probably don’t think you live on or near such a border. Well, think again. As it happens, in our brave, new, post-9/11 world, as long as we’re talking “homeland security” or “war on terror,” anything can be redefined. So why not a border?
Our borders have, conveniently enough, long been Constitution-free zones where more or less anything goes, including warrantless searches of various sorts. In the twenty-first century, however, the border itself, north as well as south, has not only been increasingly up-armored, but redefined as a 100-mile-wide strip around the United States (and Alaska). In other words — check that map again — our “borders” now cover an expanse in which nearly 200 million Americans, or two-thirds of the U.S. population, live. Included are nine of the 10 largest metropolitan areas. If you live in Florida, Maine, or Michigan, for example, no matter how far inland you may be, you are “on the border.”
Imagine that. And then imagine what it means. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as Todd Miller points out today, is not only the largest law enforcement agency in the country you know next to nothing about, but the largest, flat and simple. Now, its agents can act as if the Constitution has been put to bed up to 100 miles inland anywhere. This, in turn, means — as the ACLU has written — that at new checkpoints and elsewhere in areas no American would once have considered borderlands, you can be stopped, interrogated, and searched “on an everyday basis with absolutely no suspicion of wrongdoing.”
Under the circumstances, it’s startling that, since the ACLU made its case back in 2008, this new American reality has gotten remarkably little attention. So it’s lucky that TomDispatch regular Miller’s invaluable and gripping book, Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security, has just been published. It’s an eye opener, and it’s about time that “border” issues stopped being left to those on the old-fashioned version of the border and immigration mavens. It’s a subject that, by definition, now concerns at least two-thirds of us in a big way.