Friday, October 22, 2010

No Right to Freedom of Movement In the US

Freedom of Movement, between states, without having to "have the right papers", or pay the right bribes,  was something I always thought I had as a citizen of the United States.  As I traveled around Western China in 1999-2001, and repeatedly watched as the company mini-van driver handed-over pass ports, internal Chinese travel visa documents, and cold hard cash (aka bribe money) to toll booth inspectors on Chinese highways when leaving each municipality, I used to think to myself "back in the US, we can travel where-ever we want to, and no one asks us for papers, or even cares that we are moving between cities, or states".  I commented about this once to close Chinese colleague and friend who said that whenever he wanted to travel between Beijing and Chengdu when he was in University that he needed to get government permission to be able to do so.  Quite the closed society, and (I thought) quite a contrast to the United States.

Then, last week, while traveling West on I-10 across Texas, and spending our 11th hour traversing the Lone Star state, we passed by a "check point" on the East Bound lanes (link here).  Traffic was backed up for more than a mile from the check point, back towards El Paso, and I foolishly thought to myself "well, at least they're not bothering us".  We continued towards El Paso, seeing the plumes of black smoke and pollution rising from Waurez Mexico just South of the city, with a feeling of foreboding.   Keep in mind, I spent 4 years in Terre Haute, and my paternal grand parents used to live just down the street from the East Chicago sewage treatment plant, so I am personally well acquainted with nasty smells and poor air quality.

After we crossed into New Mexico (link here) and passed Las Cruces on our final leg of the three day journey, out in the middle of nowhere NM (link here) we encountered a check point in the West Bound lanes identical to the one we saw in West Texas!   The check point was rife with DEA, Border Patrol, ICE, and Home Land Security vehicles and personnel.  Traffic slowed to a crawl as we exited the barricaded highway in an Orwellian scene.
  • Uniformed government agents with drug sniffing dogs circled each car and truck.  
  • Forward facing and rear facing cameras (and flood lights for night settings) monitored and digitally recorded  drivers & passenger's faces, car make & model, and license plate IDs
  • un-marked boxes on stands "electronically scanned" the cars that drove between them (x-rayed? chemical sniffers? un-sure what they were)

Since we were a rental car with 3 blond haired Caucasians, we were merely "looked over" by the armed check point guard, however Penske rental trucks, and any car driven by a brown person, were
  • pulled over to the side, 
  • personal identification paper work reviewed,(licenses and green cards handed over)
  • vehicle identification paper work reviewed, (we watched a lady driving a Penske rental hand over papers that looked like a manifest with a Penske Header on it)
  • contents of vehicle unloaded & inspected, (we saw a rickety old '80s sedan being disgorged of passengers and contents with Federal agents probing through it)
  • drivers and passengers questioned. 
I don't know what they did with those who they wanted to detain, or deemed un-worthy of continued use of the I-10 highway, but there were wrecker tow trucks and Wacken Hut contracted prison buses, waiting to take any suspects and vehicles away to Federal Holding facilities.

Had I not been blond haired and blue eyed, or if any of my passengers had looked even slightly suspicious (instead of blurry eyed from just waking up from their naps), I am sure we would have been searched intensely and randomly hassled.  The drug sniffing dog took a mild interest to the trunk of our car, circling back and forth twice before continuing on to the next vehicle.  It was a bit un-nerving, to have this happen in my country, 'America, the Land of the Free' - yeah right.

At the end of 2008, New Years 2009, we saw a similar check point in the middle of California's stretch of I-10, late at night, on our way home from San Diego, and I thought it was a random occurrence.  The NM and TX check points were firm, hardened structures, not just "quickly thrown up".  If I wanted to waste 20 or 30 minutes looking on Google Earth I could probably find the CA I-10 check point is also a hardened inspection point.

I thought Obama was going to end the BS draconian erosion of civil liberties that Bush began after the historic 'asleep at the wheel' atrocity of 9-11.  It doesn't look like much has changed.  Keep monitoring the masses phone calls and emails with Carnivore, monitor who is traveling from state to state, rendition people to Bagram instead of Gitmo.  Same ole same ole.

My indignation on being monitored by my government when traveling between states was quelled somewhat, when I began researching the US Constitution's wording on "freedom of instate travel" - it's not in there (link here).  US Citizens have no Constitutional right, explicitly stated, to freely move from state to state.  Yes, there Have Been SCOTUS cases involving residency and movement between states (links here and here), and yes, the Article of Confederation, which were enforce for the 5 years from the Declaration of Independence until Congress ratified the Constitution DID explicitly give freedom of travel between states as a right (link here) with the caveat: "paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice excepted".  But the US Constitution gives ONLY Congressmen the right to travel between states (Article 1, section 6, link here) in order to go to and from annual meetings to perform their jobs.  For everyone else, it is implied, but not stated.  So if you don't like being monitored, recorded, searched, and detained (all in the name of National Security of course) I guess you're supposed to renounce your US citizenship and live on a boat in international waters perhaps?


  1. "Let me see your papers!" When we were kids, the shorthand for being in a police state [iron curtain, etc] in any play-acting scenario was to demand, in arch voice, to see one's "papers". Then and now, the power to randomly demand someone prove their validity is actually a good marker. Depressing.

  2. Going into California (10-15 miles away) we have to go through "fruit fly checkpoints". Don't get stuck behind a minivan full of potted plants like I did once.

  3. I do recall Matt, seeing the fruit inspection stops on the mountain pass... but it did not include license plate & car passenger cameras, recording all who were coming through the check point, did it?

    And while there may have been one or two CHiPs officers, and a few CA Dept Ag vehicles, there were not gray school buses with bars over the windows, and wrecker trucks, waiting to take vehicles and people away to holding facilities, are there?

    When I've flown to Taiwan and Australia (and New Zealand) they have quarantines for food, pests, porn, etc... and I understand that on isolated island nations. CA was devastated by med fly infestations when we were kids, so I can understand their concern on an Ag quarantine (and increased vigilance on potted plants even, where critters might live) ... but to look for all brown people, and scan every license plate number, makes me wonder if we are 'fighting bravely against Oceania with our allies Eurasia'.

  4. I added a close up of the camera & light assemblage, taken by my son (posted on FB).


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