Are You a U.S. Citizen?: Crossing Internal Checkpoints While Alien

are you a U.S. citizen?, respect for authority, internal checkpoints, border patrol checkpoints, border checkpoint, police powers, american authoritarianism, authoritarianism, police, second border checkpoints, civil liberties,

How to deal with American authoritarianism when crossing internal checkpoints. What do you answer when asked, “Are you a U.S. Citizen?” What do you answer when you’re a resident alien?

are you a U.S. citizen?, respect for authority, internal checkpoints, border patrol checkpoints, border checkpoint, police powers, american authoritarianism, authoritarianism, police, second border checkpoints, civil liberties,(05-08-2013, updated 07-15-2018)  Earlier I was mad about the liberties police take daily in regular, non-threatening situations, and  that nobody has a problem with it. Not enough to say anything. Americans and your endless respect for authority! This, of course, is not completely true.

The Rio Grande Valley borders on Mexico in southern Texas. In Texas, from El Paso to Brownsville, the Rio Grande is the entire border between the USA and Mexico. And yet, if you drive fifty miles north of the river, on I35, on your way to San Antonio or Austin, you come across a checkpoint. It’s one of the second border checkpoints, or internal checkpoints — like double glazing, as it were. Any time you drive through that checkpoint, you have to lower the window and answer the question: “Are you a U.S. citizen?

I haven’t been down there for a while, but when this used to happen to me, I would say, “Nope” and show my green card. Just hoping for a follow-up. Once in a while the border patrol officer asked where I was from, and when I told him, I’d get a blank look and a gesture that I could drive on. Darn.

But recently some folks have been pointing out that the internal checkpoints are on American soil, and that they don’t have to answer that question. Watch these videos to see what happens. It’s hilarious, because it totally flummoxes the officers they ask, “Are you a U.S. citizen?” and someone says, “I don’t have to answer that“. When suddenly the ever-reliable American authoritarianism of anyone in uniform doesn’t work.

T is probably just fine with my unwillingness to go back to the valley, because when I do, he’ll be shitting bricks on the way back. When we pass one of the internal checkpoints, the officer asks “Are you a U.S. citizen?”, will I say no and just show my green card (aka resident alien card), or will I decide to mess with their minds? Or will I show them my other resident alien card? Honestly, I won’t know myself until the moment I open my mouth. One of the ways to keep life interesting. I’ll let you all know.

(This post was first published on the blog Resident Alien: Being Dutch in America, under the title: “None of Your Business!”, 05-08-2013)

  • Header image: Eric Gay / AP

11 thoughts on “Are You a U.S. Citizen?: Crossing Internal Checkpoints While Alien

  1. My understanding is that there is a certain distance within the border in which the Border Patrol can set up checkpoints and has greater leeway than they would on, say, a random freeway in Oklahoma. Those checkpoints you’re talking about fall within those boundaries, and it’s within the Federal government’s power to challenge motorists at the checkpoint and expect answers.
    The best bet for anyone is just to give an honest, straightforward answer so they can get on with their day. Giving them flip answers could result in being delayed.

    1. Sure, it would be quicker to just do what they say. But the whole point is that they don’t actually have the power to hold you if you don;t answer their questions, and the only reason they get away with it is exactly because people in general find it more convenient to be on their way than to stand on their rights.

  2. Don’t forget, they teach them to lose a little thing like ‘humor’ in police academy.. Quite black and white those fellers!

    1. Apparently. I think their lack of a sense of humor also has to do with their feelings of insecurity, which they must have, doing what they have no right to all day long.

  3. Barbara,
    I watched the first video you pointed to, and I guess the counter-argument to be made is that you can refuse to cooperate without being obnoxious or rude to the people involved (hint – don’t bring up the term Nazis). The people manning the roadblocks didn’t make the policy decision to set them up, and they have no power to change that policy. If you want to express outrage, then either (1) express it directly to the people who decided to set up these roadblocks or have the power to influence that decision (legislators), or (2) write about it and try to get your friends/readers to join you in any effort to get this changed. Ok, so you’re doing option 2 already. Let people know how they can help.

    1. I don’t mean to compare the checkpoints to the civil rights movement, because the inconvenience of checkpoints is dwarfed compared to the racism of segregation. However, whatever the range of a problem, standing up to it, like Rosa Parks did, brings attention to it in a way that writing about it or trying to convince your congressperson. I don’t really like the Nazi references either, because you’re right; the officers themselves can’t help it. But the politely repeated “Am I being detained” aren’t hurting anyone.

    1. Yes, it upheld the checkpoints, but you have to have a suspicion to ask people where they’re from or to search their car. Most people don’t know that. As to keeping illegal aliens out, they don’t. They just keep most illegal aliens south of the checkpoints. But I agree that the checkpoints do stop lots of illegal aliens and–more importantly, to me–drugs from going north. That said, they do infringe on legal people’s rights, and that should be addressed.

  4. US police terrify me – some of them just swagger about with a terrifying combination of ignorance and aggression and THEY HAVE MASSIVE GUNS!!!??? Sorry if this offends any lovely American policepersons – I’m basing this on some horrible experiences I’ve had in US airports… Barbara – it must be very tempting to wind them up…

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