Some Arivaca residents want Border Patrol checkpoint gone
AMADO – When drivers stop at a temporary Border Patrol checkpoint on Arivaca Road about 6 miles west of Interstate 19, an agent asks questions such as, “Are you a U.S. citizen?”
When this happens between 8 a.m. and noon Monday through Saturday, a handful of activists from Arivaca, about 15 miles to the southwest, stand 150 feet away, viewing what happens through binoculars.
They count how many cars pass through during those hours. If they see someone present identification or who is pulled over for more questioning about his or her citizenship status, they record the ethnicity of the occupants and the condition of the vehicles (new, old, battered, washed, unwashed), among other information.
A sign next to them tells drivers, “Monitoring to Deter Abuse and Collect Data.” Some drivers wave; a few present the middle finger.
Members of People Helping People, a group whose website says it also provides humanitarian aid along the border, are gathering evidence that the checkpoint, which opened seven years ago, isn’t deterring or apprehending illegal immigrants or curtailing the flow of drugs. They hope that evidence will persuade representatives in Congress to pressure the Border Patrol to close it.
Peter Ragan, an Arivaca resident for 12 years and one of the monitors, said he and others are tired of having to stop at the checkpoint and consider it a militarization of the area.
“Most of the people who come through the checkpoint are local residents and it has the effect of criminalizing them over and over and over again,” he said. “You’re always suspected.”
Arivaca doesn’t have a hospital or schools, so residents have to drive elsewhere frequently. People Helping People notes that there are four Border Patrol checkpoints within 30 miles of town.
Ragan said stopping at the checkpoint on Arivaca Road can take anywhere from 30 seconds to an hour depending on whether agents decide to pull someone over for further questioning.
Jolon Armour, publisher of a newspaper serving Arivaca, said agents have harassed him.
“I was told that they were certain I was up to something but they couldn’t prove it so they had to let me go, but that was after 45 minutes,” he said. “It was very frustrating because you have no recourse.”
In October, People Helping People released what it called initial findings from its monitoring that showed the checkpoint systematically discriminates against Latino motorists and isn’t deterring illegal immigration or halting the flow of drugs.
Its report said that out of 2,370 vehicles stopped during 100 hours of monitoring, 11 were searched in the secondary inspection area. Six of those vehicles contained Latinos, the group said, even though vehicles containing Latinos accounted for around 10 percent of those observed.
Meanwhile, the group said it didn’t see the Border Patrol apprehend any people nor confiscate any contraband.
On a recent weekday, Arivaca resident Santiago Bazan pulled over to tell a reporter he doesn’t understand why agents ask questions such as why there’s mud on his truck when he passes the checkpoint several times a day.
“I own a ranch. What does it matter if there is mud on my truck?” he said.
Felipe Lazalde, an Amado resident who has a green card, said he travels through the checkpoint to Arivaca to hunt with his family. In Spanish, he said that Border Patrol agents never ask him if he’s a citizen but instead interrogate him about where he has been or what he is doing. He said agents have searched his car more than once.
“Sometimes they’ll pass my green card through a machine to see if I have been arrested or have a DUI or other things that they know about,” he said.
Representatives of the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector declined interview requests but emailed a response to a reporter’s questions saying the agency continuously evaluates its operations to make sure they are effective and don’t pose “an undue impact on law-abiding citizens.”
“All allegations of misconduct are taken seriously, and if warranted, referred for appropriate investigation and/or disciplinary action to be taken,” the email continued.
People Helping People partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona to request records about the efficiency of the checkpoint on Arivaca Road. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security denied the request.
The group then sued in February to obtain the records, and the case remains open. The agency entered a response in July saying the records are “protected from disclosure by one or more exemptions to the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act).”
On Thursday, Peter Ragan and Leesa Jacobson, another monitor, filed a lawsuit saying that Border Patrol agents have interfered with their First Amendment right to protest and monitor the checkpoint, including threatening them with arrest. The group objects to being required to stay at least 150 feet away from the checkpoint.
“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 in the lawsuit.
A spokeswoman for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the latest suit.