Multiple residents from the tiny community of Arivaca, Ariz., feel that a nearby border checkpoint has brought inconvenience and harassment. The Border Patrol operates the checkpoint and says it is necessary for the safety and security of Southern Arizona.
Several groups have joined what has become an ongoing struggle to try and get the checkpoint removed, as their Congressional Representative works to make the Border Patrol more accountable.
The checkpoint, just east of Arivaca, has been in place since 2007, and since then residents have complained of harassment and intimidation from Border Patrol officers. Robin Warren, a volunteer with the Arivaca Humanitarian Aid Office and the human rights group No More Deaths, has lived in Arivaca for 21 years and said the checkpoint has no constructive reason to be there.
Warren said there are many reasons as to why residents are upset. One important issue is they feel their tax dollars are being wasted. “Our tax dollars are being used for absolutely nothing,” she said. “They won’t release any statistics that show they are actually making an impact.”
Volunteers have been protesting in the hopes their message will be heard. “We need to make as much noise as we can with demonstrations and everything we can possibly do legally to get rid of it,” Warren said.
The Arivaca Humanitarian Aid Office opened in June 2012 . Since then, the volunteers with the office have worked with No More Deaths and another group, People Helping People In The Border Zone, to attempt to remove the checkpoint.
“It’s a constant harassment of the citizens of this community,” said Arivaca resident and Humanitarian Aid Office volunteer, Jack Driscoll. “(Border Patrol claims) they are protecting us from all the evils in the desert, from all the migrants coming over the border with guns and drugs. From what I’ve been told they’ve never caught up with any migrants that were armed.”
Warren said Border Patrol officers have made their everyday lives more difficult. “First, we are still in the United States,” she said. “We’re not trying to get into another country; we’re just going to the store or taking the kids to school. We see a checkpoint with guns and the men are generally very oppressive toward the people of Arivaca.”
Despite the residents’ concerns over the checkpoint, Tucson Sector Border Patrol Agent Bryan Flowers said all checkpoints have valid reasons for being built where they are. Flowers said that last year Border Patrol was able to find 35,000 pounds of marijuana, which was worth about $28.3 million. He said from fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2013, slightly over 6,000 undocumented immigrants were arrested at the Tucson Sector checkpoints.
There are 11 total checkpoints in the Tucson Sector, but statistics of the checkpoints aren’t individually kept, according to Flowers.
Warren said the lack of information about the effectiveness of the Arivaca checkpoint is just another frustration for the residents. “They don’t want to come out with the fact that they do absolutely nothing,” she said. “It’s a money game and we’re the ones losing.”
Flowers said that when checkpoint locations are decided upon, the Border Patrol evaluates the “threat level” and where would be an effective place to deny criminal activity to enter the U.S. But some locals feel that they are being treated as criminals.
Volunteers have begun monitoring the checkpoint to figure out statistics themselves and to deter harassment.“We’ve set up cameras,” Warren said. “They won’t give us statistics, so we’ll figure it out ourselves.” Driscoll said their way of monitoring the Border Patrol has been good for the community. “It has been quite effective in making them more polite and less aggressive to people knowing that they’re being watched and their duties are being felt,” Driscoll said.
The “temporary” designation of the checkpoint has also been questioned by residents since the Border Patrol has been in Arivaca now for almost seven years. Flowers insists the checkpoint is still temporary, as are all of their checkpoints. “It has been in place because the information we have shows that location is quite effective, as far as being able to restrict criminal organizations to move people, contrabands and other narcotics into the U.S.,” Flowers said.
Arivaca is in the congressional district of the U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, (D-AZ 3rd District). And Grijalva disagrees with Flower’s assessment about what is “temporary” and what is “permanent.”“My description of permanency is, has it been in the same place for a long period of time? And the answer is yes,” he said. “That’s permanent. It doesn’t have to be a permanent structure to be a permanent checkpoint.”
Grijalva is also concerned because the community was not consulted. “There was very little input,” he said. “I talked to many of the residents and a lot of longtime residents said that there was never any real discussion and never any real input. Their opposition was noted, but it was ignored.”
In addition, U.S. Border Patrol is an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, and Grijalva points out that DHS has grown significantly since it was formed after 9-11, and that it should be under Congressional oversight like the Departments of Defense or Education. “I think it deserves the same oversight and level of scrutiny that all other departments are receiving,” Grijalva said, adding that his office is pushing for more oversight.
Flowers said he understands residents may have their concerns, but insists the checkpoints are still necessary. “I apologize to any of our community members and citizens in these communities that may feel inconvenienced when they have to go through these checkpoints,” he said. “We would like to thank them for their patience. Our agents will continue to diligently protect and secure the American borders.”
Area residents and Grijalva think there is a better way to achieve Border Patrol’s goals. “I understand that sometimes when you criticize Border Patrol and their activities and the checkpoint, you’re seen as not supporting the mission of keeping the country safe,” Grijalva said. But he points out that, “We have tactics and strategies out there that are not working and they don’t need to be kept forever. We’re going to continue to push for accountability.”