Observers tracking Border Patrol stops at Arivaca checkpoint
Just beyond the Border Patrol checkpoint on Arivaca Road, Patty Miller stands in the late-morning sun with a small video camera and an orange safety vest marked with “checkpoint observer.”
Miller and other residents of the small town of Arivaca, 25 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, volunteer with People Helping People in the Border Zone, a group focused on the removal of the checkpoint, which they see as a daily intrusion and an artifact of the increasing militarization of border enforcement.
They’ve decided to establish a volunteer observer group, which will show up twice a week, unannounced, and track the behavior of border agents at the checkpoint.
Arivaca residents will stand just beyond the checkpoint two days a week on two four-hour shifts and record each time that border agents stop a vehicle. They will track the ethnicity of the driver and passengers, the make and model of the car, the length of the stop, and whether or not the car is pulled to secondary inspection, where Border Patrol agents may search the vehicle.
These observations will compare to 15 incidents cited in a complaint by the Arizona chapter of the ACLU at border checkpoints through the state, noting racial profiling, excessive force, and unconstitutional searches and seizures.
Miller has lived in Arivaca for 36 years, and she’s frustrated with the existence of the checkpoint.
"It was supposed to be temporary, and years later, it’s still here and every year, they add something to make it ever more permanent," she said.
She nods at a portable building, the generators, and signs that mark the location. “They keep adding more,” she said, “And, they’ll just keep on adding more.”
All border checkpoints in Arizona are required to be portable due to a legislative wrinkle, but the one in Arivaca has yet to be moved since it was established six years ago.
An hour after the observers arrived, Border Patrol officers and deputies from Pima County Sheriff’s Department asked them to move across the street.
An hour later, the deputy patrol agent in charge of the Tucson Sector, Lloyd Easterling, arrived and asked the observers and their supporters to move back nearly 140 feet.
Agents refused to call this an order, even after prodding by some supporters, and there was a momentary stand-off between the observers and the officers.
“If we want to stay here, what happens?” asked Peter Ragan, one of the observers.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” replied Easterling. Several minutes later, the observers picked up their folding chairs and clipboards to the new perimeter, now marked with yellow warning tape.
Miller said she wasn’t surprised, “It sure looks like they’re trying to push us back from being able to hear and see what they’re doing.”
Easterling proposed a town-hall meeting between Border Patrol and Arivaca residents, but was rebuffed by Leesa Jacobson, who argued that the observations were necessary because while Border Patrol has released numbers across the sector, residents want to know information specific to the checkpoint.
“We’ve been complaining about this a long time,” she said. “And, we were at the headquarters in January. We’re done talking, we’ve been doing it for years and we never hear anything new. We can’t get statistics for this checkpoint, so don’t know what’s going on out here.”
“There is no reason to hide that info from people in Arivaca,” said Easterling. “But there are a thousand reasons why we hide that info from those who smuggle stuff through.”
Jacobson asked if the checkpoint was even necessary and Easterling replied that it was legislated and the checkpoint was an effective tool for enforcement.
According to Jacobson, around a third of Arivaca’s 695 residents have signed a petition asking for the removal of the checkpoint. The petition was delivered to the Tucson Sector Chief Manuel Padilla last December.