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BP suit alleges 1st Amendment violations at Arivaca checkpoint

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BP suit alleges 1st Amendment violations at Arivaca checkpoint

  • An observer watching the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on Arivaca Road near Amado.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comAn observer watching the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on Arivaca Road near Amado.

Two Arivaca residents filed a federal lawsuit Thursday, accusing the Border Patrol of violating their First Amendment rights in blocking attempts to observe a checkpoint maintained by the agency.

Along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, Leesa Jacobson and Peter Ragan sued the agency, arguing that Border Patrol agents intentionally restricted their constitutional right to protest, observe and record law enforcement activity at the checkpoint. 

Jacobson and Ragan are members of People Helping People, a community organization that has challenged the Arivaca Road checkpoint for more than a year. 

Last December and in January, the group staged protests over the checkpoint, and then launched a campaign to observe agents at the checkpoint last February. The effort received an immediate push-back by agents who cited safety and privacy concerns. 

"They’ve cordoned us off far away from the checkpoint, parked their trucks to block our view and even threatened to arrest us,” Ragan said. 

Border Patrol agents have harassed observers, blocked their view with vehicles, and threatened them with arrest, according to the suit.

The lawsuit asks for a judicial order preventing agents from obstructing their monitoring.

While the agency would not comment on pending litigation, the agency "does not tolerate racial profiling or agent misconduct and appropriately investigates allegations of wrongdoing," said Nicole Ballistrea, a spokeswoman for the agency.

"In addition, we are dedicated to continued meetings with local representatives and community members of Arivaca, Green Valley and Tubac to address their concerns and will continue to diligently protect and secure America’s borders by upholding authorities within the context of the U.S. search and seizure laws that regulate checkpoint operations," said Ballistrea.

In April, the ACLU filed a formal complaint asserting that agents had established new barriers to push the observers away from the checkpoint. Residents said they returned to monitor the checkpoint on March 1 and were met with several new barriers, including barriers to pedestrian access on both sides of the road. Border Patrol agents also parked their vehicles to block their view, and on one occasion left vehicles idling for hours, exposing the monitors to exhaust fumes, said the complaint. 

In October, the group released a report based on nearly 100 hours observations and argued that agents were racially profiling.

According to the report, Latino drivers are 26 times more likely to be asked for identification than white drivers. 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, the report noted. 

There are 11 checkpoints in Arizona and at least 128 operated nationwide.

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