The Fourth Amendment is Dying

A tale of targeted harassment on the U.S. — Mexico Border

Nate Abaurrea
May 25, 2019 · 7 min read
The unmistakable badge of CBP

Here’s what Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had to say about an incident that occurred yesterday in San Diego County at the U.S. — Mexico International Border.

As for the latest example of the “erosion of American civil liberties,” allow me to share with you the full story of what AOC was referencing.

On Friday morning, I was indeed ambushed and interrogated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, while on my way into Mexico to attend a weekly meeting at More FM, a local radio station in Tijuana.

Five officers (waiting behind a corner on the pedestrian walkway just before the entrance into Mexico, adjacent to the San Ysidro Trolley Station) stopped me and ordered me to step in a little side cage area.

I asked why I was being stopped. I was told to be quiet and turn around.

I was then ordered to put my hands down on a metal table. As my pockets were emptied by two officers, I again asked why I was being stopped.

“What’s the probable cause here?”

“We don’t need probable cause, sir,” another officer responded. “We can stop and search whoever we want.”

The ring-leader (a Robo Cop lookin’ officer named “West” who had a different look to the rest of the squad, like someone who was called in for this specific task of intimidation) sternly questioned me as he continued searching.

“Got any drugs on you?”

“No.”

“Got over 10 thousand dollars?”

“No.”

“So how much money do you have?”

“Twenty bucks. What’s going on here?”

“KEEP YOUR HANDS ON THE TABLE, SIR!”

West just had that look of a man ready to beat me down in any way he could.

“So where you going today?”

“Mexico.”

(Again, we’re standing in a caged area, literally on the walkway into Mexico.)

“So why are you going to Mexico?”

“Work.”

“Work? What do you do for a living?”

“Why do you care what I do?”

“I asked you a question. Answer me.”

“I’m a writer.”

“Oh yeah? Who do you work for?”

“Good Lord. I work Freelance.”

“Hands on the table sir!”

At this point, CBP Officer West ran both of his hands along my entire waist, twice, and literally rubber-band snapped the waistline of my underwear onto my lower-back, as people walked by and gazed in at the ever intriguing interrogation cage scene.

I clinched, exhaled, leaned forward, and looked back… to see him smiling.

“Why you so angry, bro?”

“Are you serious!?”

I was then ordered to show them my passport, which was of course in my wallet.

I reached for the passport.

“HANDS ON THE TABLE SIR! DON’T MAKE ME TELL YOU AGAIN.”

“You just told me to get my passport.”

“Uh-huh,” West responded. “Go ahead and pull it out and give it to me, then put your hands back on the table.”

As he was bending up my passport card to test its legitimacy and running numbers into a little machine, a young female officer looked at me.

“If you just cooperate, this will be over,” she said. “You need to familiarize yourself with the rules, sir.”

“Familiarize myself!? Why don’t y’all tell me why I was stopped?”

West smiled again, only this time even wider.

“You know what,” he said gleefully, “why don’t you take off your shoes for me.”

“Can I move my hands?”

“Take off your shoes, now!”

I quickly removed my shoes, as I simultaneously realized that Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black Album was still playing faintly out of my headphones, which were still sitting on the table.

(“Tears Dry on Their Own.” Just seemed eerily fitting.)

After searching my shoes with a flashlight, West tossed them at my feet and said I was allowed to move my hands again to put the shoes back on.

I paused, and looked him right in the face with my hands on my side.

“Can I help you with something?” He asked.

“No,” I reply. “Not a damn thing.”

“You’re free to go,” chimed in another officer, as West continued staring at me with a look of sweet satisfaction all over his face.

I slowly collected my belongings and put my shoes back on. West still had my passport card. He then pulled out a cell phone and took a picture of it.

“Why did you take a picture of my passport?” I asked, as he handed it back

“For my records,” he said.

“Your records?”

“Yep. My records. You got a problem with that?”

“Just seems a little strange, that’s all.”

“You’re free to go, you know?”

There were so many things I wanted to say and do in this moment. Instead, I took a deep breath and walked away.

As I was standing in line at the Mexico crossing, I simultaneously felt like crying and punching someone in the face. Violated. At which time I started thinking about American policing of People of Color, and how what I’d just gone through was merely a small taste of what P.O.C. go through on the daily.

This then transitioned into the thought of, “if they can do this to me, a 6’1 White Male with a passport, and make me feel the range of emotions I’m feeling, just imagine what CBP (and ICE for that matter) can and already do to people with brown skin, people without documentation, asylum seekers, everyday Mexican-American border commuters, etc.”

However, this whole ordeal didn’t feel one bit random. It was very strange for five CBP agents to just be waiting to pounce right in that precise spot. The same spot where I’ve crossed for the last two months. On the same day of the week (Friday). At the same time of the morning (around 9 AM).

As I’m LEAVING the country! (That detail is oh so critical, as this is simply not a common occurrence.)

Maybe I’m being a bit pretentious in thinking that my recent appearances on KPBS, the “Only Here Podcast,” and the overall enhancement of my written Border coverage (in addition to my three years of work covering the Xolos of Club Tijuana and Liga MX Soccer) over the past few months would land me on some sort of modern-McCarthyism watch-list for journalists (a list which does in fact exist, CBP reportedly aided by both the U.S. and Mexican Governments in attaining a wealth of personal information of anyone deemed to be “disruptive.”)

A journalistic colleague by the name of Brooke Binkowski, upon hearing about this story in full, most certainly thought nothing of the sort.

“I really don’t think that shit was random,” she said. “Congratulations, I guess.”

Brooke’s somewhat cynical view of CBP might have something to do with the fact that she has been sent to secondary just about every time she’s crossed in the last two years, (usually on the way back into the U.S.) regardless of whether she’s in a car or on foot.

There has been a deliberate targeting, from the Trump Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, of journalists and reporters covering the border, especially in the wake of the Child-Separation saga, and November’s Refugee Caravan from Honduras and other parts of Central America, not to mention the six reported deaths of migrant children while in CBP custody.

What’s truly terrifying about this personal story is that the “best case scenario,” from a completely selfish point of view, is that the whole incident was indeed completely random.

But then think about that. Think about that quote.

“WE DON’T NEED PROBABLE CAUSE. WE CAN STOP AND SEARCH ANYONE WE WANT.”

This is essentially “Stop-and-Frisk” on the Frontera. Or “Stop-and-Grope” depending on the officer. In addition to unlawful search and seizure, and what would appear to be a blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment Rights of an American Citizen (regardless of what CBP says in-person or online about having the overarching authority to search anyone at anytime as long as it’s “within 100 miles of an international border”) Officer West taking a cell-phone picture of my passport was potentially unlawful, certainly if it was on a personal phone, and even if it was on a government-issued device.

Whether it was random or completely calculated, I got theoretically swung at on Friday morning. And they landed one. Hard. For no reason other than to mess with me. But they didn’t knock me out. And, rest assured, they never will. I’m just living my life. This is my home. San Diego. Tijuana.

This is our Cross-Border Community. No wall will ever stop our love.

Thank you for the support. And thank you to Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez for bringing ample exposure to a personal story that I knew I had to share, as I knew that it represented something much bigger than myself.

Please share this story with the masses. I sincerely hope that by using my platform as a writer and broadcaster, I can help in preventing others from having their basic rights violated, especially those who are so easily targeted by this authoritarian regime, human-beings without any real means of defense against unlawful treatment from CBP and ICE.

And if you want to see the exact location where this incident occurred, watch this one minute video from KPBS, which was produced just four weeks ago.

Then tell me… was it random?

Nate Abaurrea

Written by

Freelance Writer/Broadcaster based in California & Northern Mexico. Born & raised in Watsonville. Graduate of Humboldt State University.

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