A group of Arivaca residents are not giving up on their efforts to have a Border Patrol checkpoint removed from their community.
The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter Wednesday to Border Patrol Tucson Sector Chief Manuel Padilla to “immediately cease interfering with lawful protest and monitoring of the Arivaca Road checkpoint and respect the civil rights of all residents and motorists at Border Patrol checkpoints.”
The ACLU is ready to sue if the agency does not allow residents to exercise their First Amendment rights, said James Lyall, the organization’s attorney in Tucson.
Since Feb. 26, groups of at least three people have showed up to the checkpoint 25 miles north of the border with a sign that reads: “checkpoint monitoring to deter abuse and gather data” and a video camera.
But the residents said agents immediately harassed them and ordered them to stand far from the checkpoint, where they can’t see or hear anything.
Among other things, the ACLU letter said the agents have:
- Placed “no pedestrian” signs, barriers and rope blocking the public right of way.
- Threatened to arrest them.
- Parked their vehicles to further obstruct view of the photographers and protesters.
- On one occasion, left a Border Patrol vehicle running for several hours, blowing exhaust in the faces of the monitors.
Customs and Border Protection said in an emailed statement that the issues raised in the letter are being investigated. It said it could not comment further because “it is not the practice of the agency to discuss matters under the investigative process.”
“If they are in the area where agents are performing their duties, I can see how that would cause not only an officer-safety issue but a safety issue to the general public,” said Art del Cueto, president of the agents’ union in the Tucson Sector, the National Border Patrol Council Local 2544. “I’ve been involved in incidents where you send someone to secondary inspection and they are carrying drugs or people as contraband and speed out of the checkpoint driving erratically. I can see how people standing by it could get hurt.”
The process used by the agency to handle complaints works well, he said.
Residents say the checkpoint is a source of rights violations, racial profiling, harassment, unwarranted searches and economic deterioration.
People have to go through the checkpoint when they go shopping, have a doctor’s appointment or take their children to school, said Patricia Miller, who has lived in the Arivaca area for 36 years and volunteers to monitor the checkpoint.
“You never know what kind of attitudes you are going to get when you go through,” she said. “They don’t let agents get familiarized with the community. They are stopping people who have lived here for years.”
Last year, the Arivaca group of residents 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 over 200 people and 10 businesses, about a third of the population. U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva also wrote a letter of support.
Padilla responded by saying the agency could not remove the checkpoint because it was a lawful and effective tool to secure the border, but he encouraged them to bring to his attention any specific incidents regarding local residents and the checkpoint.
In January, the ACLU of Arizona also filed an administrative complaint with the Department of Homeland Security regarding alleged abuses at six Southern Arizona checkpoints, including the checkpoint on Arivaca Road.
Lyall said the ACLU got a response saying the claims were being investigated. It did not include a timeline.
“Until we actually see some results or actions, we remain very concerned that there are effectively no real accountability mechanisms in place,” he said.
Residents plan to keep monitoring the checkpoint in four-hour shifts.