Arivaca residents plan 24-hour vigil at BP checkpoint
Residents of Arivaca are planning to mark their year-long effort to remove a controversial checkpoint nearby by holding a 24-hour vigil and monitoring effort starting Sunday morning.
Members of the group People Helping People have argued that the checkpoint on Arivaca Road, 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.
At 10 a.m., residents will start the vigil by displaying hundreds of white crosses and candles to mark the thousands who have died crossing Southern Arizona's deserts. The group will also watch the checkpoint to "deter abuse and collect data."
The effort will mark a year of protests and activism against the controversial checkpoint, just west of Interstate 19.
Last December, the group launched their effort by circulating a petition among residents which was then delivered to agents at the checkpoint. In a tiny town of around 600 people, nearly a third signed the petition.
That same month, the group protested the checkpoint, marching on it from two directions and effectively shutting down operations for the day.
On Feb. 26, residents began monitoring the checkpoint, comparing their observations to incidents cited in a complaint delivered to Border Patrol by the Arizona chapter of the ACLU.
After several months of observations, the group published a report based on 100 hours of observation noting that Latino drivers are 26 times more likely to be asked for identification than white drivers.
While whites were 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, according to the report.
The group also accused Border Patrol of intentionally thwarting the observers by parking vehicles to block their view and pushing observers away from the checkpoint.
Along with the ACLU of Arizona, two residents and members of the group, Leesa Jacobson and Peter Ragan, sued the agency. They argued that Border Patrol agents intentionally restricted their constitutional right to protest, observe and record law enforcement activity at the checkpoint.
The lawsuit is still pending and Border Patrol would not comment on the specific complaints filed by the ACLU or Arivaca residents, however, the agency has defended the use of checkpoints.
Checkpoints are a "critical piece of infrastructure and a highly effective tool in our enforcement efforts to secure our nation’s borders," according to 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, however the agency does not break out apprehensions and seizures among the 11 checkpoints operated in Arizona.
Nationwide, there are at least 128 checkpoints operated along both the northern and southern borders, however, the agency does not highlight where those checkpoints are.
"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.