Homeland Security: Respect civil rights


Americans have a right to move about without fear of being groundlessly stopped by law enforcement. As far as we know, that constitutional right applies to all Americans, not just the minority who live far removed from the nation's borders.

In what is proving to be a sweeping Bush administration security initiative, the Department of Homeland Security has expanded use of its authority to operate within 100 miles of the border. That has come to include increasingly frequent use of roadblocks in Western Washington.

Much of the activity has occurred around Bellingham and Port Angeles. As the Seattle P-I's Paul Shukovsky reported, it has become routine to check an intercity bus on the Olympic Peninsula at least weekly, subjecting each passenger to questioning about his or her citizenship papers. The Border Patrol maintains it could exercise its authority in Seattle, as well.

Indeed, by American Civil Liberties Union calculations based on U.S. Census Bureau data, nearly two-thirds of Americans live within 100 miles of either a land border or the coast. That alone ought to show why it's important that the ACLU plans to test the continuing expansion of border-related powers in court.

There's also the matter of priorities and effectiveness. Just last month, U.S. Attorney Jeff Sullivan had to tell the Border Patrol his office didn't want to see any more small marijuana possession cases from the roadblocks.

A disabled veteran said that despite Sullivan's decision to drop charges related to his use of medical marijuana, he remained shaken. As with so many Bush administration security policies, this seems to be neither effective nor respectful of fundamental rights. If the Obama administration doesn't make changes, the courts must sort out the matter.

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