(CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union says in a federal lawsuit that U.S. Customs and Border Protection turned the entire state of Michigan into a “border zone” where anyone can be detained and searched without a warrant.
In a complaint filed Wednesday in Detroit federal court, the ACLU of Michigan alleges the Department of Homeland Security and CBP violated the Freedom of Information Act with a late and insufficient response to a request for documents about Border Patrol enforcement operations in Michigan between fiscal years 2012 and 2014.
The ACLU and its co-plaintiffs – the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center and University of Arizona professors and immigration experts Jeffrey Boyce and Elizabeth Oglesby – demand the immediate processing and release of agency records.
The complaint is centered on the CBP's interpretation of a 100-mile zone regulation and how it is applied in Michigan.
"In order for the public, policymakers and the courts to evaluate the proper scope of warrantless searches conducted by the CBP and to examine whether it is 'reasonable' for the CBP to define the entire state of Michigan as a border zone, it is critical that more information be made publicly available about CBP’s extensive but largely opaque interior enforcement operations in Michigan, and particularly about its interpretation and application of its authority within the '100 mile zone,’” the lawsuit states.
To prevent the illegal entry of non-citizens into the U.S., federal law authorizes CBP agents to conduct warrantless searches of vehicles within a "reasonable distance" from any external boundary of the U.S.
The regulation allows the agency to make a determination of “reasonable distance” based on local factors, but limits the distance to no more than 100 air miles from an international boundary.
In Michigan, however, the CBP has not only set the “reasonable distance” for the entire state at the maximum 100 miles, but also considers the entire state to be within 100 miles of an international boundary, according to the ACLU.
"CBP agents patrolling the 'border' could potentially subject anyone in Michigan – regardless of where he or she is within the state – to warrantless detention and search,” the complaint states.
The ACLU and its co-plaintiffs say that full disclosure of the records will help them understand the trends they have seen in the Border Patrol records they have examined so far.
These trends show that 31 percent of people processed by the Border Patrol – almost one in three – are United States citizens, and over 63 percent of those apprehended had been stopped by other law enforcement agencies before their CBP encounters, according to the complaint.
Other statistics allegedly show that less than 2 percent of foreign citizens processed by the CBP have a known criminal record and just over 5 percent of foreign citizens processed arrived in the U.S. in the preceding 30 days.
The Michigan branch of the ACLU and the other plaintiffs say that releasing the documents and records requested last year will reveal where Border Patrol stops are occurring in Michigan and how far they are from an international border, as well as why agents are processing so many U.S. citizens and what percentage of all stops involve people of color.
The 27-page lawsuit says "public access to the requested records is so important-- particularly given the current national conversation about immigration enforcement."
The ACLU told the Detroit Free Press, “We don’t know why Border Patrol is detaining so many United States citizens and so many people who are legally in the United States. We don’t know how many of the people Border Patrol stops are people of color…We don’t know where these stops are occurring.”
The group hopes that an examination of Homeland Security and CBP documents will help them find out what policies or procedures the agencies have in place to prevent racial profiling.
"The limited information released by defendants to date in response to plaintiffs’ FOIA request only raises more questions," the complaint states. "Without the release of all of the documents plaintiffs have requested, the public will remain unaware of the impact of the Border Patrol enforcement operations being conducted in Michigan, and of the extent to which the Border Patrol is conducting warrantless detentions and searches throughout the entire state."
The plaintiffs are represented by Miriam Aukerman, Michael Steinberg and Kary Moss from the ACLU Fund of Michigan, and by Samuel Damren and Corey Wheaton from the Detroit law firm Dykema Gossett.
A CBP spokesperson told the Free Press that it is agency policy not to comment on pending lawsuits.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.