In Arizona, Citizens Keep Close Eye On Immigration Checkpoint Residents of a small town in southern Arizona say a local Border Patrol checkpoint is unnecessary and that agents have overstepped legal bounds. So now they conduct their own form of surveillance.
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In Arizona, Citizens Keep Close Eye On Immigration Checkpoint

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In Arizona, Citizens Keep Close Eye On Immigration Checkpoint

In Arizona, Citizens Keep Close Eye On Immigration Checkpoint

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It's not just deportations that have some people upset. It's also Border Patrol checkpoints. Some of these checkpoints aren't even at the border. They're not even on roads that go to the border.

Take Arivaca Road. It's an east-west route in Southern Arizona that's 25 miles north of the Mexican border. A Border Patrol checkpoint has been operating there for seven years. Some residents of the town of Arivaca say agents at the checkpoint go too far, searching vehicles and questioning citizens without cause. So they've begun their own monitoring.

NPR's Ted Robbins reports.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Traffic cones and speed bumps force me to a stop at the Arivaca Road checkpoint. A Border Patrol agent eyes the interior of my car while he asks me a couple of questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How you doing?

ROBBINS: Good. How about you?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Not too bad. U.S. citizen?


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Have a good one.

ROBBINS: The exchange was quick and polite. The agent asked me only what he was entitled to ask to determine my immigration status. Just beyond the checkpoint, four people in bright yellow safety vests are standing by the side of the road watching everything that happens here.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Chatting, just chatting. White woman with child...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Woman with children.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: With children.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: With two kids.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: With children.

ROBBINS: They tally driver descriptions, license plates, how long each vehicle is stopped. They videotape some stops. A sign says monitoring to deter abuse and collect data.

Peter Ragan lives in the small town of Arivaca. He has to stop at the checkpoint every time he comes or goes. He says he's experienced more than inconvenience. Ragan says he's been illegally searched.

PETER RAGAN: My vehicle's been searched twice, once claiming that a drug sniffing dog alerted on it, and once because I, after answering a question about citizenship, would not answer personal questions about, you know, my vehicle, is this my vehicle, where am I going, stuff like that.

ROBBINS: Carlota Wray is a naturalized U.S. citizen. She's originally from Mexico, but she's lived in Arivaca for three decades. She carries her passport when she drives through because, she says, agents use racial profiling.

CARLOTA WRAY: When they see this color of skin, they're going to ask more questions. They're going to search your vehicle just because we're Hispanic.

ROBBINS: Fifteen U.S. citizens have filed a formal complaint with the Department of Homeland Security. They say they've been searched after dogs alerted to non-existent drugs, and detained for long, unjustified times. The Supreme Court ruled that the Border Patrol only has the right to determine someone's immigration status at these checkpoints unless agents have good reason to believe a crime has been committed.

The Border Patrol says checkpoints are valuable enforcement tools. In an email, a spokesman wrote that over the last three years, agents at checkpoints have made more than 6,000 apprehensions and seized more than 135,000 pounds of narcotics. But those figures are for all 11 checkpoints in Arizona. The agency doesn't release figures for individual checkpoints. That's the other reason Arivaca monitors began collecting their own data.

Peter Ragan thinks he knows what the numbers will show.

RAGAN: Statistics would show, if they were kept properly, that I think that very few, if any, immigration apprehensions happen here. Not very much drug interdiction happens here.

ROBBINS: The monitors want the Arivaca checkpoint closed. They say it's just one more sign of the permanent militarization of the border region. The Border Patrol says it has no plans to alter operations here. Some people like the checkpoint. As I watched, a woman in a pickup passed through the checkpoint, then slowed down and opened her window.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: I don't want to be on camera. Is that clear?


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: I am not in agreement with what you folks are doing, so please don't.

ROBBINS: Government security or government intrusion, either way, everyone stopped at the checkpoint. Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.


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