Thursday, May 10, 2007

"Barber de Chiva" Drives a lot of Different Vehicles

For a while now, Border Patrol agents at the Checkpoint on US 35 just north of Laredo have been making it clear that they have read my October, 2005 post, "Criminalizing the Political Lie". Yesterday evening, as I drove through -- presently in a 1988 Chevy Diesel truck that is louder than God and which I am test-driving for a neighbor who has recently rebuilt its engine -- an agent (I usually look at the name badge, but it was late, and I was tired) told me he liked my "blog site," ironically smiling at me as he said, "you're Barber de Chiva," right? I told him it wasn't my blog, but that I was happy he had read my post. A few months ago, a different agent had referenced the same post on Phronesisaical. Pleased that the blog was finding readership outside of the eastern fringes of western Europe, I slept peacefully.

I don't really know how it took them nearly two years to find the post, whose point they seem without exception to have missed (I don't really blame them for this, I guess). Maybe the dogs aren't so good at Google.

But read the comments from last night (by following the links to the original post, above), and you'll get a really solid feel for what passes for any kind of national security discussion down here. Among the training BP Agents receive (and it isn't a light regimen) is, of course, preparation for dealing with folks who don't like to be stopped every night driving home from work to have their various cars -- silver, red, what-have-you -- sniffed by dogs. Raise any questions about it, and you get the standard court-case spiel (once at home, I head straight for the law library in our guest room) and the barely-concealed aggression you see in this guy's comments. The "I-know-what-you-drive-and-where-you-live" stuff is only slightly mitigated, in his comments, by the "you hurt our feelings by calling us stupid" stuff.

Let me make something clear, agents and other readers, I don't have anything against any specific US Border Patrol agents. I have a problem with the fact that raising objections to USBP policy and procedure results in veiled threats and/or punitive searches. I have a problem with the unquestioned assumptions guiding the implementation of checkpoints like these. I want, obviously, to be able to express dissent without fear -- the agent claims familiarity with the constitution, but he seems to be missing key points.

For the record: I am sorry if my comments in 2005 caused hurt feelings. I wasn't really making an overt argument, then, about the Border Patrol, but leaving agents like this one with the impression that I think he's a "knuckle-dragger" obviously doesn't lead to productive dialogue, either; I regret that.


Anonymous said...

Too bad you don't live in the Rio Grande Valley where the border patrol checkpoints are about 80 miles from the US/Mexico border. Then you would avoid a nightly stop on your way home and the corresponding short chat with border patrol agents "who know who you are".

Commuters in other US cities don't have to declare their citizenship just to drive on an interstate highway.

I thought you might also like to know that according to a July 2005 GAO report (see,
"The Border Patrol does not routinely evaluate the effectiveness of checkpoint
operations, or their costs."

helmut said...

I'd like to add a few things of my own to Barba's post. Please note that this is me, Helmut, not Barba.

First, I'm disturbed by the veiled threat in the "Anonymous" officer's comments. Please note, Anonymous, that you are facing hundreds or thousands of people here in blogland that will come to Barba's defense should the threats be realized or become harassment (perhaps, thus, your anonymity). This would not be Barba's doing - he's a mild-mannered man who has done real good in southern Texas - it would be mine. This is not a threat on my part. It is a statement of the right to self-defense to what may reasonably be considered at least a veiled threat on your part.

Second, the Bill of Rights does not mention a right to privacy. You are indeed correct here. But the Bill of Rights in its original form is not the final legal answer to the privacy issue. There is precedent for a legal right to privacy stemming from the US Constitution. The 9th Amendment is generally interpreted in jurisprudence as grounding the right to privacy as a fundamental human right.

Third, you did not deal with Barba's claim anyway. You discussed the imagined claim that you are a "knuckle-dragger" (your term, not ours), and then gave us a lesson in your education. More power to you. But I don't understand the need to boost your own portfolio in response to Barba's original post. I interpret the original post as a concern about the possibility of abuse of positions of authority. Your response rather strangely attempts to boost your own authority and, if you are indeed making a threat, proves Barba's point.

barba de chiva said...

mnemosyne: it's interesting you should point that out. A few years ago, Carlos Guerra, a columnist for the San Antonio Express News, gave a talk down here in Laredo that addressed the relative differences in the checkpoints here and the valley. The difference? Guerra's argument is that the Valley--more fertile by far than where we are upriver--needs for Mexican farmworkers to be able to move freely within a larger area. There's really no other way of explaining it. Of course, that logic calls the whole thing into question, from my perspective (I often joke that I live in the World's Largest Gated Community).

That's interesting about the GAO--I'll check it out.

Thanks for your comments, too, helmut--it's nice to be reminded we're not alone!

Mark Gisleson said...

I used to do SF171s and OF612s for customs officers. They were very nice guys. Then, after 9/11, I was in northern Minnesota and crossed over for lunch. Elapsed time in Canada: less than one hour.

US Customs treated us like shit coming back. A very rude, very militaristic Customs officer made us wonder why we wanted back in the US.

I can't imagine how much worse it is on the southern border.