A year later, Arivaca checkpoint remains
The generator will run all night to power lights illuminating the Border Patrol checkpoint on Arivaca Road near Amado. Two Border Patrol agents are standing in the road, one talking to a single man in a large Ford truck towing a horse trailer.
The other is watching the cluster of observers from People Helping People, a group of activists who will mark the end of year trying to get the checkpoint removed.
The group has argued that the checkpoint, just 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.
By a tent where a few folding tables are laden with food, water and juice, is a small cluster of members ready to provide interested motorists details on their rights from the Americans for Civil Liberties Union. They have handouts about the Bill of Rights and the legal statutes that guide the Border Patrol's immigration stops.
Three observers sit in camp chairs and keep track of the cars that pass through the checkpoint, using binoculars to cut the distance, though at night the glare of headlights makes this difficult.
Along with the observers are members of No More Deaths. The group has tried to reduce the number of migrant deaths in the Sonoran Desert by leaving water and working search and rescue, but this also means that the members also find bodies in various states of decay, a consequence they say of the Border Patrol's strategy to use the desert as a natural defensive barrier.
The group has brought crosses to symbolize each body found in the desert and an altar of prayer candles. As the sun goes down a few light a candle for one of the hundreds of people who have died somewhere in the Tucson Sector.
Near the altar, crosses carpet a section of desert near a barbed wire fence. Some of the crosses are marked with the names of the dead and the year their body was found. Many of the crosses are marked desconocido, the Spanish word for "unknown."
A few dozen of the crosses are fastened to the barbed-wire fences that separate ranch land from the road.
The group began the vigil at 10 a.m. and will continue until 10 a.m. Monday morning, an effort to mark a year of protests and activism against the controversial checkpoint, just west of Interstate 19.
"We wanted to do something to mark out time here," said Peter Ragan, one of the group organizers.
Last December, the group launched their effort by circulating a petition among residents which was then delivered to agents at the checkpoint. In the tiny town of around 600 people, nearly a third signed the petition.
However, not all Arivaca residents want the checkpoint gone.
Karl Hoffman and his wife Audrey, have lived in Arivaca for 10 years. During their first three years, they dealt with two separate break-ins in their home, but none since the checkpoint was deployed seven years ago.
Just east of the checkpoint from the interior of a new Mazda sedan, he talks about the change in crime since the checkpoint was added in 2007.
"Up until seven years ago when this border check station went in, crime was rampant in Arivaca. Break-ins, shootings, drug smuggling, people smuggling," he said. "Once the checkpoint went in, we got a nice safe community,"
Hoffman and his wife have a gallery in Tubac and pass through two Border Patrol checkpoints: the first on Arivaca Road when heading east and the second, on I-19 when coming north.
"Coming through two a day, we find they're polite and professional," said Hoffman. "Really, if you're not doing anything wrong, you've got nothing to worry about."
Carlotta Wray, a recent citizen who lives in Arivaca, said she's still against the checkpoint. She's frustrated that she has to repeatedly tell agent where she's from. "I don't want to be scared, but I have my passport with me every time in case I get stopped."
In October, the group reported that Latino drivers are 26 times more likely to be asked for identification than white drivers based on 100 hours of observation from Feb. to April. A statistical review found that no other factor was as meaningful as race, including the age of the driver, the make of the car, or the presence of out-of-state plates.
Recently, the White House issues new guidelines on racial profiling, but created an exemption for the Department of Homeland Security, which includes Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Border Patrol agents are not allowed to conduct roving traffic stops far from the border, will still be allowed to stop motorists at checkpoints “largely on the basis of apparent Mexican ancestry" according to a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Near dusk, the members of No More Deaths and People Helping People marked their vigil by reading some of the names of those who have died in the desert.
Amado resident Mayra Vale helped read some of the names while her five-year daughter Olyvia listened.
"Where did all those people go," Vale asked. "Into the desert. It's important to remember them."