Border Patrol to Arivaca, Arizona: “You Have No Rights Here”

In a world of open borders, we wouldn’t need customs agents, visas, or border “security.” For most people, these things are simply an extra nuisance when traveling, but for others, they are a very real threat and a huge imposition in their lives. With very little oversight and the all-powerful trump card of “hunting terrorists,” Customs and Border Protection (CBP) cross the line into private affairs more often than they’d probably like to admit.

From the US Border Patrol website:

The priority mission of the Border Patrol is preventing terrorists and terrorists weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, from entering the United States. Undaunted by scorching desert heat or freezing northern winters, they work tirelessly as vigilant protectors of our Nation’s borders.

Despite their stated mission, CBP’s actions speak louder than words. Their recent behavior suggests that their “priority” mission of catching terrorists may not be their principal concern. Their “tireless work” has bled over and imposed on the daily affairs and civil rights of the residents of Arivaca, Arizona. The situation has now escalated to the point where the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has had to get involved.

“You can’t film us, but we can film you!” Source: Photography Is Not a Crime.

On April 16, 2014, James Lyall, an ACLU staff attorney, wrote a public letter to Manuel Padilla, Jr. (chief patrol agent of the Tucson sector). Along with the people in Arivaca, he is calling for the internal, “suspicionless” checkpoints to be removed.

The CBP came to Arivaca about seven years ago and set up what they designated as a “temporary checkpoint.” Since then, the residents of this tiny town of 700 have seen their local economy wither away, as property values, tourism, and commerce continue to decrease. According to Lyall, “one local business owner recently went under … because of the decline in tourism resulting from the checkpoint.”

If that was not bad enough, CBP has also been accused of incredible acts of cruelty toward the people they supposedly work so hard to keep out. Agents in the field have been known to chase migrants from Mexico out into the harsh desert and leave them to die. The agency’s use of “excessive force” is well documented, and its “shoot-to-kill” policy toward “rock throwers” has been the subject of intense debate. Just a few days ago, on April 19, another agent shot and killed a man near San Diego, California, who allegedly threw a rock at the agent’s head.

“It feels like you’ve gone to another country or somewhere where they’ve declared martial law, just because of the overwhelming Border Patrol presence in the community,” Lyall says.

Arivacans march in protest of CBP checkpoint. Source: People Helping People.
Arivacans march in protest of CBP checkpoint. Source: People Helping People.

But how can federal agents, who are meant to keep out terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, be granted so much power and authority that they have effectively wrapped their hands around the neck of this small town in the Arizona desert?

According to their own records, the Border Patrol have been around since 1924, back when they were “a handful of mounted agents patrolling desolate areas along US borders.” That doesn’t sound too imposing. Even though the Border Patrol had been operating within a “reasonable distance” from the border since 1924, it was not until the 1950s that the government defined that distance as 100 miles from any border of the United States — an area the ACLU has dubbed the “constitution-free zone.

While it may have seemed “reasonable” in the 1950s, the CBP’s playground now includes land occupied by two-thirds of the US population, ten entire states, and nine of the country’s 10 largest cities. Despite its already massive scope, even this arbitrary limit of 100 miles is not strictly adhered to by the agency. Among the many examples of overreach, there is the high profile case of US Senator Patrick Leahy, who was stopped by CBP at a checkpoint 125 miles south of the Canadian border in 2008.

The government has also granted the CBP the power to enter private land — without a warrant — within 25 miles of the border.

As you can imagine, the residents of the tiny town of Arivaca, a mere 11 miles from the Mexican border, feel the hot breath of the CBP on their necks more than most. Typical CBP practices, according to the ACLU, “include prolonged stops and detentions, extended interrogations totally unrelated to verifying citizenship, drug dogs falsely alerting to nonexistent contraband in order to justify invasive searches, verbal insults, excessive use of force, and racial profiling of Latino residents.”

If that doesn’t make the blood drain out of your face, know that agents have reportedly told residents of the border town, “You have no rights here. You’re suspect, because you live here.”

Arivacans, however, are just not having it, and they have decided to do something about it. In December of 2013, members of the town, along with a group called People Helping People in the Border Zone, started a campaign to remove the checkpoints and even gained the support of their local congressman, Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ).

Source: End Border Patrol Checkpoints.

Of course, the CBP wanted nothing to do with the idea of removing their checkpoints, and even refused to release data that would reveal whether or not the checkpoints were necessary or effective. So, Arivacans took accountability into their own hands and started a “checkpoint monitoring campaign” in February of 2014. According to the ACLU, “about five or six checkpoint monitors in yellow vests, with video cameras and notebooks — as well as about two dozen supporters — went out to protest and monitor the checkpoint.”

Soon after the monitors arrived, the CBP responded by inventing restrictions. These included “overflow secondary inspection,” “enforcement zones” extending up to 800 feet away from the checkpoint, a “US Border Patrol Incident Scene” 150 feet around the checkpoint, and finally threats to “forcibly remove” the protestors.

The “Border Enforcement Zone.” Source: People Helping People.

On March 1, the monitors returned to the spot that the Pima County Sheriff had previously allowed them to use, only to find that the CBP had blocked off each side of the road, designating the space as a “Border Patrol Enforcement Zone.” Monitors and protestors were once again threatened with arrest, and in the past several weeks, as they continue to stand watch, CBP has harassed and intimidated them.

When the monitors documented several cases of detainment and search without consent, a CBP agent loudly encouraged a driver to tell the monitors, “B—, don’t film me!”

In a blatant display of hypocrisy, CBP agents then allowed their supporters to park inside the enforcement zone to video record and rudely question the monitors. When challenged on this point, an agent replied, “It’s a free country.”

Residents of Arivaca, Arizona, might well have cause to disagree.

One of the very first things Lyall wrote in his letter was that “the freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.”

Arivacans have risked arrest to peacefully oppose this power-hungry maniac’s utopia that has thrived in their little town since 2007.

The CBP’s suffocating presence in Arivaca has gone too far. In an effort to make some tangible improvement to this mini-police state, Lyall has demanded the removal of “No Pedestrians” signs on Arivaca Road, and permission for residents to “peacefully protest, photograph, and videotape” from a fair and specific distance.

Should the CBP fail to comply, he has promised litigation to “vindicate” the constitutional rights of Arivacans. It is beyond scary to think that in the middle of the desert, strains of totalitarianism have blossomed 11 miles from the US border. Were it not for the courage of local citizens, such as those in Arivaca, and the tenacity of the ACLU, isolated police states along the southern US border would continue to spread — to the edge of the CBP’s jurisdiction and beyond.

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