AMADO, Ariz. – Some 20 miles north of where the U.S. and Mexico meet, near a small town in Arizona, a makeshift border patrol checkpoint that went up about 7 years ago and was supposed to be temporary continues to draw ire from residents who say their rights are being violated.
The residents of Arivaca, Arizona, have coalesced to not only protest the small checkpoint located on a two-lane road of the same name but also to monitor encounters border agents have when drivers pass through. The checkpoint has helped deter drug and human smugglers from the area, border agents say.
On Wednesday, half a dozen of them sat about 150 feet from where agents ask drivers to stop and divulge their citizenship status, the standard protocol for agents at all checkpoints and ports of entry. Under an unusually overcast sky, Patty Miller wrote down observations about the types of cars that were passing through, the people in them and their apparent interaction with the border patrol.
Standing behind her was Carlota Wray, a decades-long Arivaca resident and U.S. citizen who says she's been harassed by border agents on several occasions. She used binoculars to get a closer look at the agents, handing off descriptions to her fellow activist.
"We're just standing here for our rights as citizens," Wray said.
The goal, Wray said, was for the checkpoint to be removed.
"It has a bad impact on our little town. And it's a good town," she said.
About 600 people live in Arivaca, an unincorporated area a few miles southwest of the checkpoint.
Residents say they feel it's unnecessary and invasive when they have to stop at a checkpoint and declare their citizenship status every time they leave town, whether it be to get groceries at the Walmart in nearby Green Valley or to visit a doctor. Children are bused through the checkpoints daily because there are no schools in Arivaca.
"They're having a civics lesson, but I'm not sure it's the one we want them to have," Leesa Jacobson, another activist, said. "We are not a war zone."
But border patrol agents say the checkpoints are a crucial deterrent for drug and human smugglers. The agency is legally allowed to have in-land checkpoints within a 100-mile air radius of the actual border.
Tucson Sector border agents on June 27 encountered drug smugglers who averted the checkpoint near Arivaca and instead drove through a local ranch just south of it. After a short chase, the suspects fled the car but left behind more than 1,200 pounds of marijuana.
"Checkpoints play a vital role in the Tucson Sector. Smugglers often attempt to subvert checkpoint operations by attempting to traffic drugs and people through outlying areas. The disregard for public safety and private property in this smuggling attempt demonstrates the callousness of the smugglers," the Tucson sector wrote in a statement.