Is "Illegals on Board" Sign Needed to Stop a Smuggling Vehicle?

By David North on May 26, 2015

Here are the facts of a criminal case set in the District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. An ICE agent stopped a vehicle on the highway and found illegal aliens inside, including four alleged to be former deportees, according to court documents.

The question before the judge: Was the stop itself justifiable?

The story, as summarized in the May 4 issue of Interpreter Releases, the immigration lawyers' trade paper, was as follows:

The ICE agent who conducted the stop testified that he noticed that the defendant's vehicle was a "heavily laden" minivan that appeared to have more passengers than seat belts at the I-1-/I-12 split. He estimated the vehicle's speed of between 60 and 70 miles per hour. He then pulled his unmarked vehicle along the side of the defendant's vehicle to further investigate whereupon the minivan slowed "dramatically to 40 MPH." The agent noticed that the defendant, Mr. [Raul] Vega, was smoking profusely, appeared very nervous, and would not look in the agent's direction, despite the fact that the agent was shining a flashlight into the minivan. The agent noticed that the number of passengers appeared to be less than when the minivan drove by his post earlier. The agent then observed a person's head pop up from the luggage area. The agent testified that he initiated an investigatory stop based on what he observed and his 18 years experience as a Border Patrol agent.

Interpreter Releases reports are not available online, but users of PACER, the courts' electronic data system, can check case number 3:14-cr-00153-JJB-SCR.

Federal agents cannot stop a vehicle without a good reason for doing so. So was the stop appropriate?

Judge James J. Brady did not think so. He ruled "that this was an impermissible conclusion on which to have an investigatory stop."

Perhaps if Mr. Vega's vehicle bore a flashing neon sign saying "caution illegals on board" the stop would have been accepted by the judge.

ICE does much too little to enforce the immigration law anyway without this sort of ruling from the courts.