Based on suspicion that he was illegally present in the United States, two Border Patrol agents engaged in a conversation with Mateo Carmelo-Bartolo outside a Bangor, Maine, Goodwill store. He was, in fact, an illegal alien from Guatemala. But, says the ACLU, Mr. Carmelo-Bartolo’s flagrant disregard of our immigration laws isn’t the problem. No, it’s those “racist” Border Patrol agents who are the real trouble. And the ACLU is suing on his behalf.
You see, according to the ACLU, Mr. Carmelo-Bartolo, and his family, were “targeted” solely because they were speaking Spanish and appeared to be Central American. And, says ACLU attorney Emma Bond, the agents admitted as much in the affidavit filed in support of the arrest. Time further notes that, “The U.S. Supreme Court bans profiling based solely on race, and Bond said she’s never seen such an admission in other border patrol affidavits in cases she’s reviewed.”
Sounds like a clear-cut violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures, no? That’s definitely the impression that the ACLU and their journalistic handmaidens at Time were trying to create. But both Time and Ms. Bond are deliberately obscuring the truth to further their narrative of illegal aliens as victims.
To begin with, the Supreme Court has never heard a “racial profiling case.” That’s because the term “racial profiling” is not a legal term of art and does not define any specific offense under federal law. Nevertheless, the ACLU would have the American public believe that any time law enforcement officers stop anyone who isn’t male and Caucasian, there has been a flagrant violation of the Constitution.
But that isn’t remotely accurate. The Constitution does, indeed, protect individuals against the discriminatory use of irrelevant individual characteristics as the sole basis for law enforcement action. However, it doesn’t prohibit law enforcement officers from relying on observation and experience in ferreting out crime.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that indicia of foreign nationality serve as a legitimate basis for immigration officers to question suspected aliens about the nature of their presence in the United States:
- In United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, the Court held that “apparent Mexican ancestry” was an appropriate basis for immigration officers at a border checkpoint to refer aliens for secondary inspection.
- In United States v. Brignoni-Ponce the Court held that while foreign appearance alone does not justify a roving patrol stop, it is a relevant factor in the overall decision-making process – and “in all situations, the officer is entitled to assess the facts in light of his experience in detecting illegal entry and smuggling.”
Moreover, there is no constitutional prohibition on law enforcement officers engaging in conversation with someone they suspect of having violated the law. As the Supreme Court held in INS v. Delgado, “Interrogation relating to one’s identity or a request for identification by the police does not, by itself, constitute a Fourth Amendment seizure.”
So, what really happened in Bangor? It appears that veteran immigration officers assessed the facts in light of their lengthy experience detecting illegal entry – and had a conversation with a suspect. And, per the account featured in Time, when asked about his identity Mr. Carmelo-Bartolo, “admitted to agents that he was in the country illegally.”
That’s called good law enforcement. And we should not let anyone bully our immigration officers into ignoring what their hard-won experience has taught them – especially in order to comply with standards that have everything to do with the extreme ideology of the ACLU and nothing at all to do with the Constitution.