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ACLU Says Border Patrol Tramples Citizen Rights

(CN) - "Roving patrols" of U.S. Border Patrol agents have extended Arizona's border with Mexico at least 60 miles north, where they are pulling over and harassing citizens without probable cause and destroying private property, civil liberties advocates say.

ACLU of Arizona Border Litigation Attorney James Lyall sent a letter this week to the Department of Homeland Security demanding an investigation into a spate of citizen complaints about the patrols.

"The picture that emerges from these incidents and years of litigation is of pervasive abuse and a systemic failure of oversight and accountability at all levels of CBP," the letter states.

The letter includes detailed descriptions of five incidents that have allegedly occurred north of the U.S. Mexico-Border since 2011.

In one, a mother driving her children home from school was allegedly pulled over by agents without cause. The agents harassed her and threatened to shoot her with a Taser in front of her children when she demanded an explanation for the stop, and allegedly slashed her tire when they found no evidence to arrest her, the ACLU says.

In another alleged incident, a tourist from Oregon was held for about four hours, and refused food, water and a trip to the restroom, outside of a national monument on suspicion of being a drug smuggler. During a long search of his car, a drug-sniffing dog allegedly caused about $700 of damage to the vehicle.

Other residents alleged Border Patrol agents regularly trespassed on their farms, while others claim they were racially profiled and violently handled. Some claim they were mocked and laughed at by agents when they tried to assert their civil rights.

Lyall says these and other incidents are particularly distressing because they happened far from the actual border.

"In the factual accounts presented above, Border Patrol lacked reasonable suspicion to justify the stops," Lyall wrote. "Although the circumstance varied, the factors that would support a lawful stop were absent or weighed against an intrusive investigatory stop because they applied to a large category of innocent travelers. However, one factor in particular stands out: None of the stops occurred in close proximity to the border, and most were close to populated areas where the volume of legitimate travelers was extremely high."

Most of the cases outlined in the letter occurred 40 to 60 miles north of border, and one occurred eight miles north of the border.

"Courts have consistently recognized that roving patrol stops conducted far from the border are unlikely to generate contacts with recent border-crossers, and are thus far less likely to be supported by reasonable suspicion," Lyall noted.

"In none of these situations did Border Patrol have any indication that the vehicles came from the border," he wrote. "Nor were other factors present to suggest that any of the individuals stopped were engaged in illegal activity or fit a profile other than one applicable to a large category of innocent travelers. In each of these instances, U.S. citizens were subjected to stops unsupported by reasonable suspicion, in some cases followed by unlawful searches, extended detention, excessive use of force, or destruction of personal property."

Lyall sent the letter to Deputy Inspector General Charles Edwards and Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Tamara Kessler, both of the Department of Homeland Security.

"We request that you conduct a prompt investigation of these individual allegations of abuse and undertake a comprehensive investigation of roving patrol practices involving CBP officers generally to determine whether the Border Patrol is complying with its obligations under the U.S. Constitution, international law, and agency guidelines," he wrote.

The Border Patrol has more than 5,100 agents assigned to Arizona, most of them in the southern border region, according to the agency's fiscal year 2012 report.

A spokesman for the U.S. Border Patrol in Tucson did not immediately return a request for comment.

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