It was surreal, almost like a scene from a World War II movie in which trains are stopped and troopers run down the aisles checking everyone’s papers. I was awoken from a fitful sleep by the squawking of some radio message and the clumping of shoes in the wee hours of the morning on Train No. 49 – the Lakeshore Limited from New York’s Penn Station on a 20-hour trip to Chicago. I squinted up to see a large man in a dark green uniform shirt stomp down the aisle, his police radio loud in my ears. I muttered to myself “what’s that idiot doing awakening this whole car?” I looked out the window, could see a sign showing Rochester, realizing the train had stopped at this aging New York State community to take on passengers. My watch said 1:20; it was Monday, July 25.
Soon I heard more commotion, and a voice from the front of the railroad coach saying “Are you a U.S.citizen?” There was a grunted reply, and then another request, apparently of some other passenger, “Are you a U.S.citizen?” And on and on down the car.
By the time a couple of the uniformed folks got near me, I could see emblazoned in yellow, “U S Border Patrol” on the back of the dark green shirts.
They didn’t awaken everyone; they skipped me! I’m a very white old guy; they tend to leave us alone. But trains these days are full of people who speak little or no English and apparently don’t look “American,” whatever that is supposed to mean these days
What were the “past-midnight” marauders up to, I wondered. The tones of their voices were authoritative, but not particularly nasty. Nonetheless it was a shock to see how they roamed the aisles randomly awakening passengers with the question, “Are you a U.S.citizen?”
How pervasive, I wondered, is this new U.S.mentality prompted by fear to assure no one is here illegally and perhaps ready to cause mayhem? We were in Rochester, New York, nearly a hundred miles from the U.S.-Canadian border and I wondered what the U.S. Border Patrol hoped to find on Train No. 49.
It got me to thinking that we have become a nation that is accepting of more and more police-state actions. It appears too that President Barack Obama has done little to alter the course of begun in the Bush years, and, in fact, may be intensifying them, much to the chagrin of those of us who felt Obama’s more enlightened ways would curb this readiness to step up surveillance of our people.
To me, at least, the appearance of the Border Patrol on Train No. 49 in the early hours of July 25 was most alarming indeed and a sad portent of where this nation has been going. – Ken Germanson, July 27, 2011.
NOTE: After I wrote the blog, I decided to query the U.S. Border Patrol, a part of the Department of Homeland Security. The Patrol maintains a quality website and even invites complaints. So I queried them raising the question of why such searches were necessary. Less than two hours later, I got a long response, part of which I reproduce here:
“Border Patrol checkpoints are a critical enforcement tool for securing the Nation’s borders against all threats to our homeland. The National Strategy recognizes that control of the border cannot be achieved by merely enforcing at the line and therefore includes a substantial defense-in-depth component. We will not be able to achieve control of the border unless our apprehensions demonstrate the futility of attempting to enter the United States illegally in the first instance. For that reason, some of our enforcement actions will take place away from the physical border, at interior checkpoints, and lateral from those checkpoints. . .
“All persons, baggage, and other merchandise arriving in or leaving the United States are subject to inspection and search by CBP officers and agents. Various laws (including 8 United States Code (U.S.C.) § 1357, 19 U.S.C. §§ 482, 1581, 1582) enforced by CBP authorize such searches. . . All Border Patrol checkpoints operate in accordance with the Constitution of the United States and governing judicial rulings. . .
“Thank you for your consideration when traveling through a Border Patrol checkpoint. We appreciate your cooperation in allowing us to continue to safeguard our Nation’s borders.”
You are welcome to draw your own conclusions.