Help me navigate an immigration checkpoint
June 25, 2018 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Next week, I'll be driving from Boston to coastal Maine. I've heard of at least three border control checkpoints going up on my intended route (some combination of Routes 93, 95, and 1, traveling through MA, NH, and ME) in the past week, and I want to have a strategy to deal with one in the best way possible if I encounter one while en route.

I'm looking for creative ideas on how to protest ICE's border patrol stops when actually stopped by one. My current plan is to respond to every question from a border patrol agent with "quit your job, you goddamn nazi." This (a) lacks panache and (b) opens the slight possibility of me getting arrested or detained for harassment. While I'm pretty sure I would eventually win that court case, it would not be the optimal way to begin my week of vacation. What's the approach I can take that will minimize risk to me and my family (I'll be traveling with my wife and two kids 5 and under), while also making the day as unpleasant as possible for whichever jackbooted thug inspects my car?

Relevant facts about me:
White guy, natural citizen, native English speaker, reasonably well-spoken, basically wielding maximum privilege for the situation. Ditto spouse and kids--there is zero chance that immigration enforcement could do us harm. Will be accompanied by aforementioned spouse (who thinks this is a terrible idea) and small people. Am willing to spend time this week preparing props. Do not wish to break the law, but wish to cause maximal discomfort/disruption to people who have chosen to work as brown shirts. Have read the ACLU guides on how to interact with police, and the first few pages of Google results about the legality of telling federal officers to go fuck themselves. Bonus points if I can waste their time and/or diminish their effectiveness as a whole.
posted by Mayor West to Travel & Transportation (40 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I understand your anger, but you are meeting them on their level in a way that may make you temporarily feel better but is going to make them defensive and less likely to actually listen to you. If they met you with anger would YOU be willing to listen to their rationales?

So, I would be kind and compassionate to them: “I understand you choose this job because of limited employment opportunities (even if it is not true), if you send me your resume (give business card) I can see about helping you find a job that will allow you to serve America in the spirit of community that our country was founded on.” “I oppose what you are doing on a moral basis for this reason (quick elevator speech of ten seconds), for every question you ask me I will be donating [insert $ amount] to [charity of your choice]. I will pass your name along as the inspiration for the donation.”
posted by saucysault at 10:52 AM on June 25, 2018 [7 favorites]

There are perfectly reasonable times and places to voice your dissatisfaction. This is not one of them.

Your goal in the moment is to move expeditiously through the situation. What you're considering serves no purpose and opens you up to "problems". It's nothing but venting, and therefore one-side with no reason.

(With your spouse and kids in the car, you're going to do this? Com'on buddy)
posted by humboldt32 at 10:55 AM on June 25, 2018 [33 favorites]

Where on earth have you heard about border checkpoints between Boston and *coastal* Maine? There is currently one north of the White Mountains in NH on 93, and one well north of Bangor near Houlton on 95.

I tend to agree with humboldt32 - not with the spouse and kids. If you were alone, I would suggest simply engaging them with a loop of "Am I under arrest?" "Am I free to go?" It's literally the most effective method.

But if one of them gets a wild hair across their ass, you could be sitting there for many hours.
posted by scolbath at 10:58 AM on June 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

"there is zero chance that immigration enforcement could do us harm" but the next person they stop may be someone less fortunate, who has a higher chance of harm, and a riled up dude wouldn't be good for them.

Maybe something to the effect of answering every question as asked and ending with "This is not and should not be the way America is run" or "I object strenuously to the current political climate of our Great country". or similar.
posted by Ftsqg at 11:01 AM on June 25, 2018 [21 favorites]

CBP officers have a tremendous amount of power at roadblocks and stops within the 100 mile no-constitution zone. If you pissed one off they might shrug and move on, or they might decide to ruin your entire day, if not trash your whole life.

Cops suck in America, and they shouldn't be allowed to do what they do. But when one is in front of you with a gun and backup, you keep your nose down and cooperate if you value your freedom and health.
posted by dis_integration at 11:01 AM on June 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

I think the best way to combat oppression and the insensitivity to others' needs that it requires is to be respectful and compassionate of the people around us.

For example, of your spouse who is not on board with your plan, and the kids who will be watching as you override spouse's concerns for the sake of vitriol... For the "cause".

Don't assume that just because you're white that pissing of border guards can't endanger your spouse and kids. It might be more effective to use this as a teaching opportunity to explain oppression to your kids than an opportunity to rant at some dude who, at best, doesn't care and just wants to go home.

Remember too that if you piss these guys off and they don't take it out on you, they very well might take it out on the next weak person they come across.
posted by windykites at 11:01 AM on June 25, 2018 [11 favorites]

This could be traumatizing for your kids if this goes south, especially that age. I hadn't fully considered that little ears are hearing the headlines and in the case of a friend's kiddo, taking it to mean they could be taken from their family at any border.
posted by orchidarea at 11:06 AM on June 25, 2018 [10 favorites]

Will be accompanied by aforementioned spouse (who thinks this is a terrible idea) and small people.

This is a super terrible thing to do to your spouse and kids. If your spouse wrote and said she was married to someone who was planning this, many of us, including me, would tell her she's within her rights to cancel the trip.
posted by FencingGal at 11:08 AM on June 25, 2018 [39 favorites]

It's a really good point about how your actions may have adverse impacts on others coming through the checkpoint. Police behavior has a lot to do with the environment they have to do their job in.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:08 AM on June 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I agree with your wife: this is, in this context, not a good idea, even if I totally understand the will to register a protest.

You're basically committing yourself and your family to a bunch of speculative stress in service of a level of protest that is either going to be (a) unsatisfactory or (b) reckless, and maybe a bit of both no matter how you try to thread the needle. And in all probability you're kicking off your vacation by creating all that stress in preparation for something that never actually happens.

I say swallow the idea, go on vacation, refrain from giving a cheery thumbs up to any ICE people you might encounter, and then when you get back sit down and figure out a way you, personally, can direct that energy and desire to protest to some meaningful action you can take that doesn't potentially harm and basically unavoidably create stress and anxiety for your family.
posted by cortex at 11:15 AM on June 25, 2018 [9 favorites]

ICE agents, like telemarketers, are human being and deserve be treated with a certain minimum amount of human dignity.

Also, I assume they read the newspapers too and they are aware of the issues. Either they know and don't care (and nothing that you, a random stranger) might say will have any impact or they care but don't feel empowered to act (yet).

At the same time, being visible as person who cares and an ally to those endangered by the current policy has value, to yourself and your family, if not the agent.

I would consider a variation of saucysault's reply that just focuses on yourself and turns this into a positive encounter:
I might say, in a cheerful, upbeat voice:
"I'm so glad you stopped me! I made a deal with a friend that if I got stopped by ICE I would donate $x to [charity] plus another $y for each question or request for information. So, a stop pus request for id is $x+y. What else would you like to know?" Then reference the on-going total as you answer any further questions. A the end, say, "Thank you so much. I will be sure to mention that my donation to [charity] was in honor of the ICE stop by Agent zzz today"

If you are lucky, it may even turn into a story that the agent tells someone else so your small act will have more visibility than if you were just some random jerk making his day worse.
posted by metahawk at 11:24 AM on June 25, 2018 [8 favorites]

Don't do this. You don't know the politics of the person working that checkpoint. Maybe they joined up during the Obama Administration and live in a small border town where there are not a lot of other options and they're looking and haven't found an alternative yet to feed their family and pay their bills. And even if not, what are you hoping to accomplish? If the guy working that checkpoint is a fascist Nazi, it's not like being called out on it by a stranger passing by is going to shame him into changing his views. Nobody ever changed someone else's opinion by being an aggressive asshole.
posted by something something at 11:26 AM on June 25, 2018 [7 favorites]

I have had the same exact thought as you and have come to the conclusion that there's no way to express my opinion in that situation that doesn't run a small risk of my getting detained by unaccountable hyper-cops. Also, I can't imagine that it would be effective. Find another way to work against ICE.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:28 AM on June 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

As a kid, it is terrifying to witness one parent in hostile confrontation with a perceived authority figure while the other parent is visibly uncomfortable with the situation. If you can avoid doing this to your kids and find another protest outlet, I would strongly urge you to.
posted by terretu at 11:29 AM on June 25, 2018 [26 favorites]

If you've read the ACLU guide I feel like the best thing you could do is set up a little roadside stand in front of a checkpoint handing out copies of it to people who need it. If you're truly super pissed, it's legal for you to say nothing. If you're trying to be an ally to people who are truly impacted by the negative actions if ICE, stunts are not just harmful to your marriage, but to their potential safety.
posted by jessamyn at 11:30 AM on June 25, 2018 [16 favorites]

there is zero chance that immigration enforcement could do us harm

They can take you out of your car somewhere out of view of eyewitnesses and cameras and beat the shit out of you, which most people would count as harm. If they don't mind doing a lot of paperwork, they can take you somewhere out of view and just straight-up murder you.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 11:30 AM on June 25, 2018 [8 favorites]

While I respect that you want to do this and your reasons for wanting to do this, you're accountable to the other people in that car and to the resistance at large. To take a page from the old OSS sabotage manual and my current method for dealing with cops: treat them coldly. Talk to them as little as possible. Don't engage with them beyond exactly the information they need. Avoid looking at them. Shun them. Give them nothing to respond to. Never miss an opportunity to misunderstand a question or make them repeat themselves to slow them down. All plausibly deniable stuff.
posted by Krazor at 11:32 AM on June 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

there is zero chance that immigration enforcement could do us harm
I would not rely on this. You and your family can be held, and that could suck.

Border checkpoints in Maine. Yes, this has been happening recently. This Wikipedia article appears factual, but one would, of course, be wary of taking legal advice from Wikipedia. ACLU article. US CBP.

IANAL. I appreciate your desire to protest this really shitty activity. I would not, in turn, be shitty to CBP staff. Some of these people have worked for CBP for a while, well before the current administration asked them to be this shitty. Jobs in Maine, especially north of Augusta, are not plentiful, and people have to live. It's not entirely unreasonable to control the borders, for a number of reasons, including invasive species, legitimately exclude-able immigrants. I would maybe call the local ACLU and ask for some advice, I've known ACLU staffers; they will want to help you protest effectively. I think I would
1. ask them to justify the legality of the stop
2. state that you protest the activity
3. answer legal questions truthfully. We are American citizens, traveling legally in the US.
4. Know your rights and do not allow your vehicle to be searched or be asked questions that are not allowable in context. I believe that question to be an unconstitutional violation of my rights.
5. I am not aware of assets being seized in Maine, but if I were planning to protest, I wouldn't carry much cash or valuables.
6. Carry the phone number of a lawyer.
7. Make sure everybody has phone/ cameras and record the event. Publicizing events like this may have far more effect than anything else.
8. I'd probably make signs for my windows protesting Unreasonable Search and Military Tactics, Protect Human and Immigrant Rightsor whatever. The militarization of daily American life is vile, is happening, and it's incremental, well, sort of, for most of us.
9. Jessamyn's plan is nifty. If there's a stop, let me know, I'll see if I can get there or get others there.
posted by theora55 at 11:38 AM on June 25, 2018 [8 favorites]

I agree with everyone else that it isn't the best idea to confront someone.

Having said that, I've always wanted to play "Killing in the Name" by Rage Against the Machine while I was being pulled over for a traffic stop. Or "Fuck the Police". It's not hard to think of others. You could make a pretty fun playlist out of it. Given the current political situation, playing "Deutschland Uber Alles" might make sense, with the possible benefit that the agents are unlikely to recognize the song and therefore might not even recognize that you're being critical.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:10 PM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I mean, I feel you on this. But I'd stick with cold, indifferent, get through, and donate money to RAICES, or similar. Follow Jessamyn's awesome plan, maybe write to tourist bureaus in the state you get stopped in (if/when you get stopped) to inform them that ICE's presence is going to be a deterrent to you visiting their state and spending your coin there in future. Someone is going to wind up being a test case, but it sounds like this would really, deeply fuck with your wife and kids, and nobody needs that.

I am really strongly feeling you on the whole 'fuck you you fucking Nazi' path, but we can be ice-cold sand in the machinery and still be free/alive/healthy to go campaign our hearts out for anyone who has 'abolish ICE' as part of their platform and then hold them to it, among everything else that will make an active difference. (If a difference that comes on way, way too slowly.)
posted by kalimac at 12:11 PM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I struggled with this very thing as I crossed the border (yesterday) on the return from my trip to Montreal. Not worth it.
posted by terrapin at 12:20 PM on June 25, 2018

I appreciate your concern. I would not want to be in the car behind you after you piss off the border patrol agent.
Please unpack your white male privilege elsewhere.
posted by TrishaU at 12:47 PM on June 25, 2018 [24 favorites]

The only thing I'd add to what everyone else said is that I'm a lawyer who has exonerated criminal defendants who were innocent, and I assure you none of them would describe the ordeal as "zero harm."
posted by cribcage at 12:50 PM on June 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

I’m a 40 year old white woman with a giant pile of privilege in the same geographic area and cold indifference is my weapon of choice. Staccato, unfriendly, minimal answers. Refusing to respond to the substance of the question until the agent explains why they’re asking. Granted, we’re among yankees - cold indifference is kind of their (our) jam. But - at least as a woman - refusing to be pleasant and smooth the social interaction or placate the person in power really does feel like resistance. If you’re someone who would ordinarily joke around with people in authority I think you may underestimate how stressful it is just to NOT do that, before you even get to more directly confrontational forms of protest.

Separately, I am stunned by the number of people in here saying “ICE agents are people too.” Plenty of people have quit homeland security jobs rather than act against their conscience. If one excuses harassing one’s neighbors because it’s the only good-paying job around, it’s worth considering what else they’re able and willing to excuse on those grounds.
posted by amelioration at 1:24 PM on June 25, 2018 [8 favorites]

If you were going to be by yourself on this trip, I would say -- do whatever you want.

But I think the advisability of your plan (or any alternative plan short of just getting through the event) is trumped (sorry, no pun intended) by your wife's objection. In our marriage, my husband and I try not to exercise veto power over the other's decisions, except on rare occasions. I think this type of plan is one of those occasions that is absolutely subject to a spouse's veto, given that she and your children will be in the car with you.
posted by merejane at 1:54 PM on June 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

This is not using your privilege for good. This is using your privilege in a particularly entitled way while endangering and upsetting your family for no good reason.

You are so determined to make some border agent's day "as unpleasant as possible" that you are considering your wife and kids to be collateral damage in that quest. Ahem, does that sound familiar? Is this what the good guys do, or what the bad guys do?

Maybe you and your wife and kids could make a project of drawing a sign or two to hold up in the window. The recent protests should give you plenty of fodder. "No Kids in Cages" or "No Ban, No Wall" or "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
posted by desuetude at 2:06 PM on June 25, 2018 [10 favorites]

I met zero enforcement on a drive from CT to Brunswick, Maine about a month ago, not did I hear any talk of checkpoints from any of the large group of folks I was there to mingle with.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:43 PM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

This sounds like an awful idea designed to make you feel better while hurting everyone around you, especially your family who would at the very least be exposed to you swearing angrily at the ICE agents and possibly more. What's the lesson you will be teaching to your children? They won't understand the political point but they sure will learn about being rude to others. Your plan seems juvenile and counter-productive.

Even ignoring those adverse effects, I'm not sure what you expect to accomplish. Do you imagine that the ICE agent will hear your vitriol and then, all of a sudden, reassess his life's choices and decide to stop enforcing the regulations? Decide to quit? Or even would change his mind in the direction you support? The reactions I'd expect are "ugh, what an asshole", "must be a full moon," a hardening of law-and-order mentality as a response to raving hippies or "sir, please follow me" followed by an annoying ordeal.

The best way to have the impact you desire is to engage in the political sphere, but if you wish to do something about it at the checkpoint, I suggest politely expressing your displeasure at the policies. The ICE agents are normal human beings and the natural human reaction to being called a jackbooted thug is *not* to concede the point but to oppose the insult. On the other hand, when someone talks to you like a human being and expresses a coherent viewpoint, people listen.
posted by bsdfish at 3:08 PM on June 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

I admire your willingness to fight here. I SO wish more of our elected officials had some guts (Hi Maxine Waters!). The level of tacit acceptance of the current American political situation is extremely disturbing to me. That being said

My current plan is to respond to every question from a border patrol agent with "quit your job, you goddamn nazi."

-there is zero chance that immigration enforcement could do us harm.

Maybe it's where I'm from or who I am, but I am far, far less certain of this than you are. This seems like a very bad idea to me. Any law enforcement officer can make you have a very, very bad day at any time for any reason with absolutely no consequences.

I appreciate where you're coming from and absolutely do encourage and support you in fighting, but in ways that are less likely to lead to retaliatory damage to you and your family.
posted by cnc at 3:25 PM on June 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Consider using soap to decorate the windows of your car with whatever slogans you want (SENIORS RULE CLASS OF 2018!!! style). No idea whether it would make a difference.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:43 PM on June 25, 2018

As a woman of color who has been detained at one of these checkpoints when on a hiking trip with the family, I add my voice to the chorus of please don't do this. The guy in front of us was a young white guy in a sedan; I don't know what he told them but it very clearly pissed them off and they brought out a K9 dog to sniff around his car, and they carried that whole pissed off flavor to the interaction with us. We were there for over an hour answering their questions (where are you from? what other cities have you lived in? what's the last place you traveled? when did you return? etc etc). It sucked. Don't be like that young white guy in the sedan.
posted by basalganglia at 3:51 PM on June 25, 2018 [18 favorites]

Please do not put your kids at risk by doing this. Please.
posted by anastasiav at 6:08 PM on June 25, 2018

I don’t know how it works at BP checkpoints up north, but down here by the border of Mexico, they’re not just checking citizenship, they’re also looking for smugglers, of both humans and drugs. So they can search your vehicle, and just because you don’t have any drugs in the car doesn’t mean they won’t find any.

And not everyone who’s been working a job for 20 years and is supporting a family, can afford to walk away from that job and risk homelessness, no matter how much they may hate what their job has turned into.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:47 PM on June 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

^^^^MexicanYenta raises two extremely pertinent concerns.

Per the Portland Press Herald, Border Patrol is not only asking about the immigration and citizenship status of each driver and passenger, but also using drug-sniffing dogs to check out vehicles. Your plan could put your family at risk of a frightening ordeal. And as many others in this thread have pointed out, it could also put other people (especially POC) at risk of a frightening ordeal.

And not everyone who's been working a job for 20 years and is supporting a family can afford to walk away ... no matter how much they may hate what their job has turned into.

The Houlton, Maine, Border Patrol office, which is carrying out this checkpoint, is in Aroostook County, which has a 16.3% poverty rate (compared to the 12.5% state poverty rate). It's also remote and sparsely populated, which means there aren't a lot of other employment options.

There is a way to leverage your privilege effectively. This isn't it.
posted by virago at 3:39 AM on June 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

PS In the interest of full disclosure: I work for the Press Herald, but I had nothing to do with the reporting, writing or editing of the news story linked above, by Staff Writer Peter McGuire.
posted by virago at 3:48 AM on June 26, 2018

Never tip your hand prematurely to the authorities. I get that you don't want to be part of the machine of oppression but there are better and more effective ways to go about being against it. The initial satisfaction of "fuck you, Nazi pig dog" is easily outweighed by the immediate danger to your wife and children by the authorities. They kill white people, too. That is what monopoly on force means: you can kill anyone. This particular act of protest makes your family leverage against you due to their presence and if noted by the surveillance state future leverage.

Fight the system but do it with very careful forethought and planning. Don't flail ineffectually behind bars or beat down in the woods; destroy the system with cold forethought. People able to smile politely and lay down the future Underground Railroad are needed; people who hold their elected officials accountable are needed; people ready to provide assistance in any number of ventures, covert or otherwise, are needed. What is not needed is a limited pleasure with no gain.

Be cold. Be sharp. Be thoughtful. The movement needs you in one piece. We need you to be the hero and not the victim of this encounter.
posted by jadepearl at 4:47 AM on June 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Message received, y'all. I'm already giving the ACLU as much money as we can afford; it just feels so distant and far-removed from real, tangible actions that I was hoping there was some direct action I could take. I know an overwhelming chorus of "don't shoot yourself in the foot, dumbass" when I see it, though, so I'll stick with cold indifference and look for another way to beat my fists impotently against the machinery of the administration.
posted by Mayor West at 5:38 AM on June 26, 2018 [9 favorites]

MayorWest, I understand the frustration of watching all this go down and not being able to do much besides scream into the void. If you get to the point that you want to come down here and participate in some of our protests, I have a guest room.

This offer is open to any MeFite, actually. Casa de Yenta is open to members of the MeFite Resistance League.

(And I just heard that one of the two new tent cities they’re putting on military bases is going to be right here on Fort Bliss, so we may be increasing the number of protests locally. We’ve got Tornillo on one side and this new one will be on the other side.)
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:16 AM on June 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm already giving the ACLU as much money as we can afford; it just feels so distant and far-removed from real, tangible actions that I was hoping there was some direct action I could take.

Greater Boston Legal Services has an immigration unit and accepts donations. The City of Boston also has an immigration clinic. I don't know exactly what roles might exist for non-lawyer volunteers in those clinics, because I don't work with them (I don't practice immigration law)—but I volunteer extensively with several other legal-aid organizations around the commonwealth, and I can tell you that non-lawyer volunteers are often helpful and welcomed.

The Trial Court has also been expanding its Court Service Centers program, and I know they welcome non-lawyer volunteers. Expanding the scope a bit, here's a slightly outdated but still largely accurate list of volunteering opportunities around Boston via Boston Magazine. As someone who donates a lot of his time here, I assure you there are many ways to help actual people that are more direct than contributing to the ACLU (which I don't do, for various reasons).
posted by cribcage at 9:32 AM on June 27, 2018

NH ACLU is holding training sessions for what to do when encountering immigration checkpoints
posted by XMLicious at 10:00 AM on July 20, 2018

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