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Residents claim racial profiling at Border Patrol checkpoint

'The Constitution is too often and too easily ignored by agents,' group says

Latino drivers are 26 times more likely to be asked for identification than white drivers at the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on Arivaca Road west of Interstate 19, according to a group that wants the checkpoint removed.

Although thousands of drivers passed through the checkpoint, no arrests were made during the period when observers recorded the actions of border agents there, the group said.

Nearly 50 people filled the meeting room of the Arivaca Community Center on Sunday, where the group People Helping People presented their case based on the observations of trained volunteers who tracked how Border Patrol agents treated people driving east through the checkpoint toward I-19.

Between Feb. 26 and April 28, observers watched 2,379 vehicles pass through the checkpoint.

Each observer recorded the type of vehicle, the apparent race of the occupants, the length of the stop, if the driver presented identification, and whether or not the vehicle was sent to additional inspection by border agents.

While less than two percent of motorists were asked for their identification, that requirement fell almost entirely on Latino motorists, members of the group said.

While whites comprised more than 80 percent of the people who drove through the checkpoint during the observation period, less than one percent of whites had to prove their citizenship to Border Patrol agents. 

Meanwhile, approximately 16 percent of Latinos had to show their identification.

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Latinos were also 20 times as likely to be ordered to secondary inspection, the group said. 

Out of nearly 100 hours of observation, the group noted that secondary inspections were relatively rare. Out of nearly 2,400 vehicles, only 11 were pulled into additional inspection.

Observers watched interactions from a distance, after being pushed back by agents during the first day of observation in February, so they could not hear interactions. In some cases they watched through binoculars.

Not one inspection resulted in arrests or the confiscation of drugs, the group said.

In April, the ACLU of Arizona sent a letter to the agency criticizing repeated interference of the observers. Border Patrol agents installed barriers to pedestrian access, parked their vehicles to block the view of the observers, and on one occasion left vehicles idling for at least four hours, exposing the monitors to exhaust fumes.

The group's report said that while the sample size was small, it provided a "disturbing confirmation of what many border residents already know to be true: the Constitution is too often and too easily ignored by agents at interior checkpoints."

"We've worked on the data from every direction," said Dr. Katerina Sinclair, a statistician who helped the group analyze their data. "Nothing in my analysis accounted for this result, except for race."

Sinclair said that she looked for correlations between the kind of vehicle and a request for identification, the age of the driver, out-of-state plates, and other factors. She even looked to see when drug dogs were on duty and yet, the single variable that controlled whether a driver had to show ID or drive to secondary inspection remained the race of the driver, she said.

Vehicles with Black or indigenous occupants were recorded, but not included in the analysis since there were only four vehicles total that met that description.

The Border Patrol defended the use of the checkpoint.

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"In the Tucson Sector, checkpoints remain a critical piece of infrastructure and a highly effective tool in our enforcement efforts to secure our nation’s borders," said an agency spokesman, who asked to not be named.

According to data provided by the agency, agents working checkpoints in the sector had apprehended 431 people and seized nearly 24,000 pounds of narcotics by July.

The agency said it did not break out apprehensions and seizures among the 11 checkpoints operated in Arizona.

In fiscal years 2010-2013, agents at Tucson Sector checkpoints apprehended approximately 6,372 people and seized over 135,000 pounds of narcotics.

"Checkpoints deny major routes of egress from the border areas to smugglers intent on delivering people, drugs and other contraband to the interior of the United States and allows the Border Patrol to establish an important second layer of defense," said the agency.

Some Border Patrol checkpoints, including one on Interstate 8 near San Diego, display the year's apprehensions and seizure numbers.

"Currently Tucson Sector is looking into the opportunity to highlight the efforts of our checkpoints and displaying those arrests and seizures at our checkpoints," said the agency.

During Sunday's meeting, Deborah A. Seat said that a female agent, identified only as Agent Moore, mistreated her during an incident on July 30.

The agent, Seat said, asked her several questions about her travels and then asked her to pull into secondary inspection where Agent Moore said the car smelled of marijuana.

There, Seat was held for 45 minutes in a tense exchange that included Moore snatching her phone for trying to take video and trying to pick through her purse, Seat said. 

Seat filed a report with the Pima County Sheriff's Department on Aug. 1, accusing the agent of assault. 

"I always cooperate with the law," said Seat. "But, they never asked for my ID or if I was a U.S. citizen."

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Martinez-Fuete, that immigration checkpoints were only permissible if they involve a "brief detention of travelers during which all that is required of the vehicle's occupants is a response to a brief question or two and possibly the production of a document evidencing a right to be in the United States."

A later court case, City of Indianapolis v. Edmond said that agents could not use the checkpoints for general crime control.

In the meeting room, Carlotta Wray stood and spoke about her own interaction despite her recent citizenship.

"I know my rights, and I don't want to be intimidated, but they hurt my feelings by asking about where I'm from. I'm from here," she said. Wray said she had to present a passport so agents would release her.

"We approach the checkpoint with anxiety," said Peter Ragan. "You never know what's going to happen each time you go through."

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Ragan had said previously that he has been stopped multiple times and his vehicle has been searched twice.

The checkpoint has been controversial throughout the year.

In January, the group marched to the Border Patrol office in Tucson to submit a petition to Tucson Sector Chief Manuel Padilla, as well as letters to members of Congress signed by more than a third of Arivaca residents. 

That same month, the ACLU of Arizona submitted a complaint citing 15 incidents of misconduct at checkpoints in Arizona, including unconstitutional searches and seizures, including racial profiling and excessive use of force. 

In April, the ACLU and two University of Arizona professor sued for the release of information related to checkpoints, including the on in Arivaca. The suit asked for documents including "agency policies, stop data, and complaint records." The lawsuit also asks for documents relating to the training, certification and performance of drug sniffing dogs, including how the agency deals with "false alerts."

That information has not been provided, despite a recent push to make the agency more accountable. 

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3 comments on this story

Oct 22, 2014, 9:40 am
-0 +0

I didn’t realize one couldn’t edit their comments after posting, or that my screen name would be anonymous. My name is Daniel Stolte.

Oct 22, 2014, 9:36 am
-0 +0

I must be the 1% of white population that gets asked for identification each and every time I pass through a checkpoint. The agents profile not only Latinos but whites as well by asking, “Are you a US citizen?” Because I’m not, I have to produce my German passport each time I go through, as well as answer lengthy questions about where I live, why I am in the country, how long I’ve been in the country, and what I do for a living.

If I was living here illegally, what would I do? OF COURSE I would lie and answer “Yes, I am a citizen,” because I’d have nothing to lose. And I bet that is exactly what many who live here illegally do. Therefore, the agents are hardly to blame for asking for ID in those cases. And I’m sorry, it is simply the reality that Latinos are more likely to live in this region than non-Latinos. I find the “racial profiling” argument silly for that reason.

If the government was serious about keeping illegals out, BP would stop asking the silly question of “Are you a citizen” and simply check everybody’s ID.

I’m all for open borders, but IF you want to maintain a border and insist on legal immigration, please stop complaining about racial profiling. It’s a bit of a slap in the face of those of us who try to live here legally and face the exact same issues, except nobody cares because we’re white.

Oct 20, 2014, 2:35 pm
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If this checkpoint goes away, then this road will soon become the busiest for smugglers. This would be sheer lunacy.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Observers watching the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint from February to April say they have found evidence of racial profiling by agents.