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Border agents and the 100-mile rule

Some parts of Indiana are less than 100 miles from the Canadian border, which means U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents can question almost anyone about their immigration status. The 1946 Immigration and Nationality Act gave border agents the authority to question anybody they believe to be an alien within a “reasonable distance” of a U.S. boundary. Seven years later, the Department of Justice defined a reasonable distance as 100 miles. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, this rule means that two out of three Americans can be questioned, searched and possibly detained.

Reasonable suspicion and probable cause

The 100-mile rule has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, but the justices ruled that border agents can only search vehicles when they have probable cause to believe that their occupants have committed immigration violations. However, agents can stop and question people based on the lower standard of reasonable suspicion. In a 1975 case, the justices determined that border agents had gone too far when they stopped a car because its driver appeared to be Mexican, but they ruled that the man’s apparent ancestry was a “relevant factor.”

Legal status

Hundreds of thousands of people are detained each year after being questioned by border agents, and many of them are legally entitled to be in the United States. When the advocacy group Families for Freedom obtained the records of people who had been detained by border agents at a New York bus station over a six-year period, they discovered that 300 of those arrested were either U.S. citizens, permanent residents or visitors with tourist visas.

Removal proceedings

Undocumented immigrants who are detained by border agents will usually face removal proceedings. In these situations, an attorney familiar with U.S. immigration law may apply for a cancellation of removal if the undocumented immigrant is of good moral character and has lived in the United States for many years.