U.S. Border Patrol agents are facing intense criticism after footage of a tense encounter with a San Diego middle school teacher was posted online, showing them detaining the woman and her children for refusing to say whether she was an American citizen during a checkpoint stop in New Mexico.
Shane Parmely, an English, theater, and art teacher at San Diego’s Bell Middle School, was driving through New Mexico with her family when she was stopped by border patrol officials, who demanded to know whether Parmely was a U.S. Citizen. According to KGTV, the checkpoint stop occurred far from the Mexican border.
“Are we crossing a border?” Parmely can be heard asking the officer. “I’ve never been asked if I’m a citizen before when I’m traveling down the road.”
“I’m passing [on] a federally-funded highway, driving, minding my own business. And I get pulled over and asked if I’m a citizen,” she continued, adding later: “You can ask me. I don’t have to answer.”
Parmley was reportedly detained for 90 minutes, before being released—without answering the Border Patrol’s question.
Speaking with CBS News, Parmely, who is white, explained that her small act of civil disobedience was done as a show of solidarity for her Latinx friends, many of whom have been stopped and questioned under similar circumstances.
“It’s horrifying to hear what has happened to my friends’ kids, who are just brown,” she said.
In a statement to KGTV, a U.S. Border Patrol spokesperson said:
Border Patrol checkpoints are a critical tool for the enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws. At a Border Patrol checkpoint, an agent may question a vehicle’s occupants about their citizenship, place of birth, and request document proof of immigration status, how legal status was obtained and make quick observations of what is in plain view in the interior of the vehicle.
During the course of the immigration inspection, if an occupant refuses to answer an agent’s questions, the agent may detain the driver for a reasonable amount of time until he or she can make a determination regarding the occupant’s immigration status.
It is agency policy that all individuals with whom we interact are treated with dignity and respect.
According to the ACLU, Border Patrol officers may stop and briefly detain drivers during these types of stops. They may not, however, detain drivers for extended periods of time without probable cause.
On Facebook, Parmely defended her decision to stonewall the officers, writing: “Enforcing racist laws perpetuates institutional racism. I’m sick of helping perpetuate racist laws just because I’m not inconvenienced by them.”