AMADO, AZ - Some 20 miles north of where the U.S. and Mexico meet, a makeshift border patrol checkpoint that went up about seven years ago and was supposed to be temporary continues to draw ire from nearby residents who say their rights are being violated.
People who live in Arivaca, Arizona, are not only protesting the small checkpoint located on a two-lane road of the same name but also monitoring encounters between border agents and drivers. 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. 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.
But the agency says checkpoints are "an effective and essential component of the border patrol's strategy."
"These checkpoints are critical to our patrol efforts for they deny major routes of egress from the border region to smugglers intent on delivering people, drugs, and other contraband into the interior of the United States. The Border Patrol carefully selects checkpoint locations to maximize border enforcement and continuously evaluates our operations to ensure they are effective and do not pose undo impact to law abiding citizens," spokesman Andy Adame 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."
Border patrol is legally allowed to have in-land checkpoints within a 100-mile air radius of the actual border, of which there are 11 in the Tucson Sector. Adame said the agency is dedicated to meeting with community members to address their concerns.