Section 101 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 sets forth the primary mission of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its related agencies. The Act requires that DHS not diminish the civil rights and civil liberties of persons by the efforts, activities and programs it employs to secure the United States against the threat of terror. It also requires that the overall economic security of the United States is not diminished by such actions.
The importance of these provisions cannot be overstated. They are two among eight general guidelines set forth in the Act. Yet, despite their deliberate placement and apparent importance, agency adherence along the northern border has proven to be ambiguous at best.
A recent incident involving a Lynden, WA, resident highlights the dilemma caused by these conflicting policies. Wayne Groen was indicted in January on one count of interfering with an aircraft’s operation and one count of incapacitating a person operating an aircraft. The charges carry penalties of up to 40 years in prison.
The incident occurred when a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Blackhawk helicopter allegedly flew close to Groen’s home during a night mission causing his entire house to shake. Groen reacted by shining a high-powered flashlight at the cockpit, temporarily blinding the pilot who was wearing night vision goggles at the time. Agents on the ground arrested Groen shortly thereafter. Groen was convicted on the second count and faces up to 20 years in prison.
Many residents along the Northern border are angered by the arrest and consider CBP’s incursions as an infringement on their private property rights.
Neighboring property owners are reporting similar low flying night missions. These missions cause trouble with their dairy operations, and infringe upon the quiet use of their property. Some have even begun to chain and lock their gates to keep border agents from speeding across their property and conducting what they feel is unwarranted surveillance. They argue that DHS is treating the northern border like the southern border and that DHS is harassing local residents as a result.
The anger caused by Groen’s conviction is now being directed at the agencies, and concerned citizens have begun to question border tactics and results. One resident asked how many terrorists had been apprehended in relation to the number of flight hours logged; a CBP representative stated that in the 2500 flight hours logged last year, zero suspects had been apprehended.
Yet Wayne Groen, a law abiding citizen and longtime resident of Lynden, faces up to 20 years in prison because an unlit Blackhawk helicopter flew so close to his home that his belongings were thrown from their shelves. This raises the question: should CBP be allowed to violate a U.S. citizen’s civil rights including his right to enjoy his home in the exercise of a specific mission that has produced zero suspects over the previous year? For many residents living along the northern border the answer is no. Perhaps it’s time for DHS to reexamine its protocol and begin working with, not against the citizens it purports to protect.