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A year later, Arivaca checkpoint remains

The generator will run all night to power lights illuminating the Border Patrol checkpoint on Arivaca Road near Amado. Two Border Patrol agents are standing in the road, one talking to a single man in a large Ford truck towing a horse trailer.

The other is watching the cluster of observers from People Helping People, a group of activists who will mark the end of year trying to get the checkpoint removed.

The group has argued that the checkpoint, just 25 miles north of the Arizona-Mexico border, is the site of civil rights violations, including unconstitutional searches and seizures, racial profiling and excessive use of force.

By a tent where a few folding tables are laden with food, water and juice, is a small cluster of members ready to provide interested motorists details on their rights from the Americans for Civil Liberties Union. They have  handouts about the Bill of Rights and the legal statutes that guide the Border Patrol's immigration stops.

Three observers sit in camp chairs and keep track of the cars that pass through the checkpoint, using binoculars to cut the distance, though at night the glare of headlights makes this difficult.

Along with the observers are members of No More Deaths. The group has tried to reduce the number of migrant deaths in the Sonoran Desert by leaving water and working search and rescue, but this also means that the members also find bodies in various states of decay, a consequence they say of the Border Patrol's strategy to use the desert as a natural defensive barrier. 

The group has brought crosses to symbolize each body found in the desert and an altar of prayer candles. As the sun goes down a few light a candle for one of the hundreds of people who have died somewhere in the Tucson Sector.

Near the altar, crosses carpet a section of desert near a barbed wire fence. Some of the crosses are marked with the names of the dead and the year their body was found. Many of the crosses are marked desconocido, the Spanish word for "unknown." 

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A few dozen of the crosses are fastened to the barbed-wire fences that separate ranch land from the road.

The group began the vigil at 10 a.m. and will continue until 10 a.m. Monday morning, an effort to mark a year of protests and activism against the controversial checkpoint, just west of Interstate 19.

"We wanted to do something to mark out time here," said Peter Ragan, one of the group organizers.

Last December, the group launched their effort by circulating a petition among residents which was then delivered to agents at the checkpoint. In the tiny town of around 600 people, nearly a third signed the petition.

However, not all Arivaca residents want the checkpoint gone.

Karl Hoffman and his wife Audrey, have lived in Arivaca for 10 years. During their first three years, they dealt with two separate break-ins in their home, but none since the checkpoint was deployed seven years ago.

Just east of the checkpoint from the interior of a new Mazda sedan, he talks about the change in crime since the checkpoint was added in 2007.

"Up until seven years ago when this border check station went in, crime was rampant in Arivaca. Break-ins, shootings, drug smuggling, people smuggling," he said. "Once the checkpoint went in, we got a nice safe community," 

Hoffman and his wife have a gallery in Tubac and pass through two Border Patrol checkpoints: the first on Arivaca Road when heading east and the second, on I-19 when coming north.

"Coming through two a day, we find they're polite and professional," said Hoffman. "Really, if you're not doing anything wrong, you've got nothing to worry about."

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Carlotta Wray, a recent citizen who lives in Arivaca, said she's still against the checkpoint. She's frustrated that she has to repeatedly tell agent where she's from. "I don't want to be scared, but I have my passport with me every time in case I get stopped."

In October, the group reported that Latino drivers are 26 times more likely to be asked for identification than white drivers based on 100 hours of observation from Feb. to April. A statistical review found that no other factor was as meaningful as race, including the age of the driver, the make of the car, or the presence of out-of-state plates.

Recently, the White House issues new guidelines on racial profiling, but created an exemption for the Department of Homeland Security, which includes Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Border Patrol agents are not allowed to conduct roving traffic stops far from the border, will still be allowed to stop motorists at checkpoints “largely on the basis of apparent Mexican ancestry" according to a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Near dusk, the members of No More Deaths and People Helping People marked their vigil by reading some of the names of those who have died in the desert.

Amado resident Mayra Vale helped read some of the names while her five-year daughter Olyvia listened.

"Where did all those people go," Vale asked. "Into the desert. It's important to remember them."

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Latest comments on this storyRead all 8 »

Dec 9, 2014, 4:59 pm
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Further, the majority of the increase in deaths during this period occurred within the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector—which includes much of the Arizona desert. Our analysis of the NCHS data indicates that, between 1990 and 2003, more than three-fourths of the rise in migrant border-crossing deaths along the southwest border can be attributed to an increase in deaths in the Tucson Sector. Over this period, deaths due to exposure, especially heat-related exposure, increased substantially, while deaths from traffic fatalities and homicide declined. This pattern represents a major shift in the causes of migrant bordercrossing deaths, as traffic fatalities were the leading cause of migrant border-crossing deaths during the early 1990s, while from the late 1990s onward, heat exposure was the leading cause of death. The increase in deaths due to heat exposure over the last 15 years is consistent with our previous report that found evidence that migrant traffic shifted from urban areas like San Diego and El Paso into the desert following the implementation of the Southwest Border Strategy in 1994. 


In 1994, the Attorney General announced plans for the Southwest Border Strategy, an enforcement initiative designed to strengthen enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws and to shut down the traditional corridors for the flow of illegal immigration along the southwest border. The strategy called for the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)5 to incrementally increase control of the border in four phases with the goal of making it increasingly difficult and costly for migrants to attempt illegal entry so that fewer individuals would try. The strategy called for adding resources along the southwest border by first concentrating personnel and technology in those sectors with the highest levels of illegal immigration activity (as measured by apprehensions) and by then moving to the areas with the least activity. Additional Border Patrol resources were initially allocated in the San Diego, California, and El Paso, Texas, sectors. The strategy assumed that as the urban areas were controlled, the migrant traffic would shift to more remote areas where the Border Patrol would be able to more easily detect and apprehend migrants entering illegally. The strategy also assumed that natural barriers including rivers, such as the Rio Grande in Texas, the mountains east of San Diego, and the desert in Arizona would act as deterrents to illegal entry

Dec 9, 2014, 4:51 pm
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overgrowmexico typed:

And many reports of “border jumpers” being raped by border patrol. Is that at “taxpayer expense” Maybe not as linear as you wish it to be.

In your futile attempt to equate my comment on taxpayer costs to rescue border jumpers in the desert and rape by BP, you have failed. Linear? you should try that sometime instead of falling over your misguided correlation.

Dec 9, 2014, 4:37 pm
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Dylan Smith got up on a soapbox and yelled:

That’s not merely a claim made by NMD, but a 2006 finding by the Government Accounting Office, and a strategy that’s been widely acknowledged by CBP officials.

I see nothing in that report from 2006 that confirms the claim by NMD that deaths in the desert are a consequence of a BP strategy to use the desert as a natural defensive barrier.

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Click image to enlarge

Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Crosses marked with the names of migrants found dead in the desert hang from a barbed-wire fence near the Border Patrol checkpoint on Arivaca Road.