When Border Patrol Questioned This Teacher's Citizenship Status, She Refused To Answer

"I’m sick of helping perpetuate racist laws just because I’m not inconvenienced by them."

When a San Diego middle school teacher named Shane Parmely was driving with her family in New Mexico, a Border Patrol agent asked her if she's a citizen. While Parmely, a white woman and a citizen, easily could have answered "yes" to that question and continued driving, she refused to answer out of solidarity for minorities who are often questioned more aggressively at such checkpoints.

Though Parmely was miles away from the U.S. border, she was within the 100-border zone, a designated area around the perimeter of the country where, according to the ACLU, Border Patrol agents "enjoy broad—though not limitless—powers."

Upworthy notes a relative of Parmely's filmed the encounter with Border Patrol. It has since been shared on Facebook in several parts and gone viral. "I've never been asked if I'm a citizen before when I'm traveling down the road," Parmely tells the agent who questioned her citizenship. "And I know I don't have to answer."

After a bit more back and forth (and still no answer from Parmely regarding her citizenship status) the agent informs her she's being detained under United States v. Martinez-Fuerte — the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court case which allowed the United States Border Patrol to set up permanent or fixed checkpoints on public highways leading to or away from the Mexican border. 

However, as the ACLU points out, though Border Patrol has the right to ask "a few, limited questions to verify citizenship of the vehicles' occupants," agents "cannot pull anyone over without 'reasonable suspicion' of an immigration violation or crime." 

Once it's clear that Parmely is not free to leave in the video, she gets to the heart of her argument by clarifying that if she had declared her U.S. citizenship she would have been allowed past the checkpoint. When the agent agrees with that statement, Parmely begins to explain what she's trying to illustrate by not answering that query. 

Shane Parmely

"If I have an accent and I'm brown can I just say 'yes' and go ahead, or do I have to prove it?" Parmely asks the agent. "I have a bunch of teacher friends who are sick of their kids being discriminated against."

She adds, "I have friends in San Diego whose children get harassed because they emigrated from Mexico, they're a teacher, their kids are born here, and they're tired of it."

Parmely told KGTV San Diego she and her family were detained for about 90 minutes before being allowed to continue on their way, and she stands by her decision to "question authority".

Parmely's friend and fellow teacher, Gretel Rodriquez, applauds her actions, telling the outlet, "Hopefully, she's starting someone else to say, hey, needs to stop. "If everyone's being asked and everyone is being interrogated I might accept it, but even then, we probably realize it's not right."

In a comment on one of her Facebook videos of the Border Patrol incident Parmely reiterates why she chose not to answer the citizenship question. "Enforcing racist laws perpetuates institutional racism," she wrote. "I'm sick of helping perpetuate racist laws just because I'm not inconvenienced by them."

Border Patrol spokesman Mark Endicott released a statement on Parmely's encounter with the agents shown in the video. "Border Patrol checkpoints are a critical tool for the enforcement of our nation's immigration laws," the statement to The San Diego Union Tribune said. "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."

Still, Border Patrol has been plagued by allegations of racism for years. According to the New York Times, in 2015, the ACLU obtained 142 complaints of Border Patrol profiling and abusing motorists from January 2011 to August 2014. The publication notes the documents "portray an agency whose fractured oversight system has enabled at least some agents working along the southern border to stretch the limits of law and professional courtesy while rarely facing meaningful consequences."

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