Immigration update: open borders and illegal checkpoints

This year, volunteers organized, gathering hundreds of signatures and picketing outside the Border Patrol offices in Tucson AZ to try to get illegal checkpoints removed, to no avail. For several months, small groups monitored the busiest of the area’s checkpoints, on Arivaca Road, noting things like the length of the stops, the questions asked and the number of drivers pulled aside for a search of their vehicle and belongings.
“We didn’t see any arrests,” said one of the volunteers, Peter Ragan, 52, a landscaper who has lived in Arivaca for 12 years. “There were no undocumented people apprehended at the checkpoint, no drugs interdicted, no murderers, rapists or terrorists we were defended against, as far as we could see.”
Under a ruling by the Supreme Court, the Border Patrol is allowed to conduct random stops and searches within 100 miles of the border, a power that the agency says is critical to its task of keeping drugs, guns and people from illegally entering the country.
The Border Patrol’s parent agency, Customs and Border Protection, said in a statement that existing laws give its agents broad powers to question and arrest people and to seize evidence, and that those powers are not bound by geographic restrictions. The agents, the statement said, “enforce the nation’s laws while preserving the civil rights and civil liberties of all people” with whom they interact.
But in Arivaca, residents say they live in a constant state of scrutiny. At first, they say, the checkpoints seemed like a mere inconvenience, the price to pay for living in a community located in one of the biggest smuggling corridors in the Southwest. But after years of virtually daily stops and questions, with no exceptions made, the checkpoints came to seem more like intrusions. Because the border agents who staff them are on duty for only a few weeks, their relationship to the community has never evolved beyond an adversarial one.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen when you pull up to the checkpoint at any given time, and that’s very unnerving,” said Carlota Wray, 57, who has lived in Arivaca for 33 years.
Ms. Wray recalled one morning some weeks ago that she got so flustered by the question she was asked at the checkpoint — “They wanted to know if I owned the car I was driving,” she said — that she forgot to drop off at her grandson’s school the folder he had forgotten at home. She has also spent time monitoring the checkpoints.
The Border Patrol operates 34 permanent checkpoints along the southern border and it is capable of operating 182 tactical, or temporary, checkpoints installed along well-established smuggling routes, officials said.
Some of those checkpoints, like the ones that ring Arivaca, operate under canopy tents set up on the side of country roads flanked by wilderness and pasture, a cramped air-conditioned trailer offering the agents’ only respite from the oppressive desert heat. Others stretch along all lanes of major highways that lead from Mexico into the United States, visible from many miles away and, for drivers, virtually impossible to avoid.
As motorists approach, cones corral their vehicles, organizing them into lanes, if there is room, or in single file. Signs warn of decreasing speed limits: 45 m.p.h., 25 m.p.h. Agents and drug-sniffing dogs stand at the ready at the spot where the vehicle must stop.
Every morning at the checkpoint on Arivaca Road, about 25 miles from the Mexican border and about 20 miles from the center of this community, school buses full of children get stopped. A minibus that takes older residents on weekly shopping trips also gets stopped.
Unlike frequent border crossers, who carry cards granting them faster entry in the United States, there is no special designation for drivers who frequently pass through checkpoints. The thinking is that anyone could be a smuggler, so everyone must be stopped.
Elsewhere, others have also taken action against checkpoints. Outside Las Cruces, N.M., the American Civil Liberties Union Regional Center for Border Rights posted volunteers at a rest stop past one of the checkpoints that hug the city, on Interstate 25, to educate motorists about their constitutional rights as they go through the checkpoints. In Texas, some drivers at checkpoints on Interstate 35 in Laredo simply refused to answer questions from border agents, telling them things like, “Did I stumble into Mexico or is this the United States?”
The checkpoints have been most successful at finding drugs, seizing 342,624 pounds of marijuana in fiscal 2013, or 14 percent of the 2.4 million pounds of marijuana confiscated by the agents along the northern and southern borders. They were also responsible for intercepting more than half of the heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine seized by the Border Patrol over the past four fiscal years, the statistics show.
But only 2 percent of the unauthorized immigrants captured by the Border Patrol in each of the past four fiscal years were apprehended at checkpoints, according to statistics provided by Customs and Border Protection. There were 9,510 such apprehensions in fiscal 2013, out of 420,789 apprehensions by the agency.
Here, the citizen monitors have been poring over the information they compiled, mapping out the frequency with which the same drivers were stopped and trying to assess whether Hispanic drivers were held longer than white ones. They are not quite sure what they will find, said Mr. Ragan, the 12-year resident, but they do know one thing: If the purpose of the checkpoints is to seize illegal drugs, firearms and immigrants, “in the time that we observed, they accomplished none.”

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