Border Patrol agents already are given broad powers to enforce immigration laws, even when it infringes on our right to free movement, even as far as 100 miles from any border.

Now, thanks to a ruling this week by the Supreme Court, agents who abuse that already immense authority are all but free from consequence.

Every American should know that the court just took some of their rights away, and Congress should work quickly to restore them.

The case in question concerns Robert Boule, the owner of a bed and breakfast named Smuggler’s Inn, which straddles the U.S.-Canadian border at Blaine, Washington. Boule said a Border Patrol agent who came to his inn to investigate a guest roughed him up then retaliated against him when Boule complained.

By a 6-3 ruling, the conservative members of the court found that Boule could not pursue his claims of excessive force, arguing that only Congress can authorize lawsuits of federal officials.

The ruling guts the 1971 decision in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, which said that federal law enforcement officers who violate the Constitution may be individually sued under the Fourth Amendment, which protects against illegal search and seizure.


It is the latest ruling to make it harder for people who believe their rights have been violated to seek justice, including a 2020 decision in which many of the same justices said a Mexican family whose 15-year-old son was shot by a border agent — from the other side of the border as he ran away — could not sue the officer.

The latest decision takes that further and all but immunizes the country’s 20,000 border agents, and perhaps other federal officers, against allegations of misconduct, no matter how severe. For someone whose rights are violated, the ruling says, the only recourse is to file a grievance with the agency who employs the officer — and the final decision from that agency cannot be reviewed.

It should be alarming. Border agents patrol much of the country. Decades ago, when there were far fewer of them, agents were given the authority to conduct citizenship checks without a warrant up to 100 miles from any land or coastal border.

The policy makes every community in Maine a border town. Ten other states, including all of New England, lie entirely or almost entirely with the 100-mile zone.

The authority given to Border Patrol, and other immigration enforcement agencies, already is problematic, even if it is exercised properly.

But agents and their superiors also have shown a cavalier attitude toward Fourth Amendment protections, which combined with a lack of oversight has led to routine violations of rights.


Now, without the threat of an individual lawsuit, the bad behavior will only get worse.

Congress has the power to restore the rights under the Bivens ruling, and they should do so immediately.

It’s hard to think of something more frightening than a federal officer free to abuse their considerable power. Certainly no one immigration violation is worth that.

As Justice William Brennan wrote in the Bivens decision, “An agent acting — albeit unconstitutionally — in the name of the United States possesses a far greater capacity for harm than an individual trespasser exercising no authority other than his own.”

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