A group of Arivaca residents expanded their Border Patrol checkpoint monitoring campaign on Wednesday to Arizona 286.
Nine residents of the small community, about 60 miles south of Tucson, grabbed their clipboards and safety vests and sat across the highway from Border Patrol agents as they inspected vehicles heading north from Sasabe.
Their goal was to collect information such as the number of cars that go through, how long they are questioned, occupant ethnicity — when possible — and whether they are sent to secondary inspection.
In February 2014, members of People Helping People, a humanitarian group founded in Arivaca, began monitoring the checkpoint on Arivaca Road to document what they said are abuses and civil rights violations from the agency.
But after two years, it was time to move to the other checkpoint Arivaca residents must cross to leave the town, said Leesa Jacobson, one of the group’s founding members.
When they started, she said, the plan was a few months of intensive monitoring, but they decided to continue on and off after they heard from others that agents were being “nicer,” since part of their efforts are also to serve as a deterren t.
Unlike the first time they monitored the other checkpoint, when volunteers said they were met with resistance from the agents who set up enforcement barriers and used their vehicles to block their views, this time the agents were, in general, professional and respectful, said Jacobson.
She and fellow member Peter Ragan have a lawsuit pending in federal court alleging First Amendment rights violations. The Border Patrol declined to comment due to the lawsuit.
On Wednesday, after some back and forth, the agency allowed them to observe the agents from the other side of the road as long as they didn’t interfere with their work or traffic.
The monitoring efforts are part of a broader campaign to have the checkpoints removed.
The Supreme Court has ruled that questions must be brief, minimally intrusive and focused on immigration. For anything else, including further detention, there must be consent or probable cause.
After People Helping People opened an office in 2013, residents approached them with complaints, volunteer Sophie Smith said, but they didn’t go anywhere.
“We started talking about organizing two years ago because it was a source of constant frustration,” said Ragan.
In additon to checkpoint monitoring, the group gathered signatures and released a report based on their observations in which they found Hispanics were more likely to face prolonged stops and secondary inspections.
In the last few years, the American Civil Liberties Union has also filed an administrative complaint with the Department of Homeland Security, citing rights violations at checkpoints and calling for a Justice Department investigation. In 2015, it also issued a report based on public records obtained after it sued the government in which it found widespread abuses not being investigated or pursued.
Border Patrol officials say the checkpoints are here to stay.
“I look at checkpoints as a critical tool within the Border Patrol toolkit to control the border overall,” Tucson Sector Border Patrol Chief Paul Beeson told the Arizona Daily Star in a recent interview.
“They are strategically located in areas of the border where we have seen activity occurring.”
But the agency aims to ensure agents are professional, he said, and “that we are doing it mindful and respectful of Constitutional rights.”
For Jacobson, the fact that agents are more courteous since they started to take notes is not enough.
“We are not planning to go anywhere, as long as we are able and as long as there’s a need for some kind of accountability,” she said.