Tales of Border Security

American cops increasingly think they can harass innocents in the name of keeping us safe.

Stories like the following are always disturb me in at least two ways.  First, it makes me wonder about our technical capabilities and second, I find the cavalier attitude of law enforcement especially problematic.  We seem to be increasingly in a situation in which law enforcement’s attitude is that they can harass and inconvenience innocent citizens, even mistakenly, because they serve a vague higher calling of keeping us “safe.”

Via the AP:  NY woman questioned again and again over ID mix-up

Sylvie Nelson’s border crossings are anything but routine. Customs agents sometimes order her out of her car. Twice, they handcuffed her in front of her young children. Once, agents swarmed her car and handcuffed her husband, too.

She tells them: It’s not me you want, it’s a man with the same birth date and a similar name. Agents always confirm that and let her go.

Then it happens again. And again.

“I can understand one missed identification,” Nelson said. “But over and over and over again?”

The above gets to my first concern above:  in an age of networked computers and databases, how hard is it to get something like this straight?

To the second:

“They never apologize,” Nelson said. “They basically tell you that they’re doing their job for the better good of the world.”

Now, granted, this is her view of things, but given the way citizens are routinely treated by the TSA at airports and by police in everyday life, I fear that the benefit of the doubt goes to Nelson, not the border patrol.

Speaking of the TSA (and yes, I know that the story above is not about the TSA, but to me it is all part of the same overall milieu), this incident makes me think back to stories such as the following:

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, US Politics, ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. grampagravy says:

    You better back off Steven. With that attitude, you are going to get tazed one of these days!

  2. An Interested Party says:

    Tazed or shot dead, as the two weapons are, apparently, so easily mistaken for each other…

  3. tom p says:

    I once got pulled over for doing 82 in a 55…. I had my sons with me, but after 45 mins on the side of the road I was ready to come out of my truck and beg the cop to just go ahead and cuff me (I had no idea what was going on.)

    finally the cop came back to my truck apologizing profusely. Apparently the computer kept trying to tell him I was a large hispanic male wanted in 7 states… I am 5’9″, 150 lbs (back then anyway) and while very dark complected, blond and blue eyed. He just couldn’t buy it.

    He never did give me a ticket because as he said, “I think you have enuf trouble already.”

    There are a few good ones out there.