An Arivaca residents group called for an investigation of alleged racial profiling by U.S. Border Patrol agents at the checkpoint on Arivaca Road outside of Amado, based on a report it produced on volunteers’ monitoring of the checkpoint.
The new report from People Helping People in the Border Zone, which has called for an elimination of the checkpoint since 2012, showed that Latinos are more likely to face prolonged stops and secondary inspection than white people.
The group documented vehicle and motorist descriptions, duration of each stop, what happened during stops, whether motorists were required to show identification or pulled aside for secondary inspection, and the age, ethnicity and gender of the Border Patrol agent.
The group gathered more than 100 hours of data between Feb. 26 and April 28 this year, according to Peter Ragan of PHP. It recorded 2,379 vehicle stops, which an independent statistician analyzed.
“The statistics show what the community already knows,” said Kat Sinclair, the statistician.
The report showed that while the majority of the 2,379 vehicle stops were occupied by white occupants, vehicles with only Latino occupants were more likely to be asked to show identification. Volunteers observed 45 instances where motorists were required to show their identification, 34 of which involved vehicles with only Latino occupants.
There were 11 recorded instances of vehicles being pulled aside for secondary inspection, according to the report. Six of those involved Latino-only motorists, while three involved white-only motorists.
The report noted that of the 2,379 recorded vehicle stops, there were no apprehensions of criminals or seizures of contraband.
The effectiveness of the agency’s highway checkpoints has been hotly debated in Southern Arizona for years. While the Border Patrol says permanent checkpoints are a necessary enforcement tool, critics say smugglers circumvent the checkpoints, shifting smuggling into the flanking areas and neighborhoods.
Last year, the Arivaca group launched a campaign to demand the removal of the Arivaca Road checkpoint — one of three Border Patrol checkpoints that surround the town. The petition was signed by more than 200 people and 10 businesses, about a third of the population.
Residents say the checkpoint is a source of rights violations, racial profiling, harassment, unwarranted searches and economic deterioration.
Carlota Wray, a long-time resident of Arivaca and a naturalized U.S. citizen, said she has to pass through the checkpoint regularly to take her grandkids to school. On several encounters, agents repeatedly asked her if she was a U.S. citizen after she had already told them she was.
“I believe it’s my color,” she said. “It must be my color. I’m a Mexican. I’m a Latino, or whatever you want to call it.”
Since Feb. 26, groups of at least three people started to show up to the checkpoint 25 miles north of the border with a sign that read “checkpoint monitoring to deter abuse and gather data” and a video camera.
Residents said agents immediately harassed them when they started the monitoring campaign and ordered them to stand far from the checkpoint, where they couldn’t see or hear anything.
The American Civil Liberties Union has several pending issues regarding checkpoints, including a lawsuit for a public records request that hasn’t been fulfilled and an administrative complaint filed in January with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security regarding alleged abuses against 15 U.S. citizens at six Southern Arizona checkpoints, including the checkpoint on Arivaca Road.
A Border Patrol spokesman said the agency had not seen the new report by the Arivaca group and that it could not comment on something it has not seen.
In the past, the agency has said in response to the group’s demand for the elimination of the checkpoint that the agency could not remove the checkpoint because it was a lawful and effective tool to secure the border.
CBP officials say agents are trained to follow the law and treat travelers courteously.
But to James Lyall, an attorney with the ACLU in Arizona, all of these issues can be traced back to lack of transparency and accountability.
“We can’t even get basic checkpoint data. The community can’t really observe what’s being done; a complaint alleging broad systematic abuse is ignored,” he said. “I haven’t seen the kind of fundamental reforms desperately needed, apart from a couple of very discrete and limited actions when you are talking about an agency committing widespread abuse.”
Newly appointed U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske has promised greater transparency and accountability. Earlier this year, he released the agency’s use-of-force policy, and has modified its process to review its use-of-force incidents, among other changes.
The Arivaca residents group said it would continue to monitor the checkpoint for abuse, racial profiling and harassment.
It called for the Border Patrol to collect checkpoint data and take disciplinary action against abuse and harassment toward residents who are passing through the checkpoints.
If a volunteer group can monitor and document all this data, then the federal government should be able to, also, Ragan said.
Steve Waibel, a Tucson resident, said he commuted from Tucson to Rio Rico for nine years from 2003 to 2012 and went through a Border Patrol checkpoint every workday without any incidents.
“It’s a slight inconvenience,” he said. “No one likes to go through security or taking off their shoes, but they do it. Overall, it makes things safer for everybody.”