Protesters from a small Arizona town staged a demonstration at a nearby border checkpoint early on May 27 to express their opposition to its presence as well as the discriminatory and racist practices of Border Patrol.
“If I was with a ‘brown’ person, I’m stopped. If I’m by myself, I’m a honkey, and I go right through,” protester Susan Thorpe told News 4 Tucson. “That makes me very sad to see what’s happened to my country.”
About 100 people from the town of Arivaca, Arizona made their way to the temporary Border Patrol checkpoint on Arivaca Road, about 50 miles southwest of Tucson, at around 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning. The action, organized by the group People Helping People in the Border Zone, was set to be a “community hearing and sit-in” to shut down the checkpoint along with various other checkpoints in the area near the Arizona-Mexican border.
“We are not accustomed to having a military checkpoint,” Leesa Jacobson, a co-founder of People Helping People in the Border Zone, told Slate in July 2014. “It is common in other countries, but Americans have never had to live with that as a permanent way of life before.”
As protesters approached the checkpoint chanting “No justice, no peace! Checkpoints off our streets!,” they briefly stopped traffic before Border Patrol agents and Pima County Sheriff’s deputies shoved protesters to the side of the road. The authorities were obviously prepared for the protest as about two dozen Border Patrol agents were present at a checkpoint which usually is staffed by less than 10 agents.
“If they pose a safety hazard to the general public, we’ll have to step in,” Tucson Sector Border Patrol chief Manuel Padilla Jr. told the Arizona Daily Star. “But we’re going to listen to their issues and look for common ground to continue future dialogue.”
Once pushed off to the side by Border Patrol and police, the protesters set up a podium, along with a 12-foot paper mache effigy of Padilla, and held a “public hearing” where protesters voiced their grievances with the checkpoint. The protest lasted for about three hours in all with no arrests made.
The action on Arivaca Road was just one of seven actions “calling for the demilitarization of the borderlands” over the last few days in border communities in southern Arizona, including a vigil held in Tucson on Tuesday for Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, an unarmed Mexican teenager shot by Border Patrol in October 2012.
Although the checkpoints in Arizona were set up in 2007, they are still referred to as “temporary.” According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there are at least 11 in southern Arizona, all located about 25 to 50 miles north of the Mexican border. Border Patrol insists that these checkpoints are necessary to keeping drugs and smugglers from entering the country.
“It’s very difficult to stop all the incoming traffic because of terrain,” Padilla told Tucson Sentinel. “We need the checkpoints to provide a kind of defense-in-depth and give us time to make arrests and seizures.”
The protesters claim to have shown otherwise.
People Helping People in the Border Zone began monitoring Border Patrol’s actions at the checkpoint in February 2014. By October, the group released a report showing that even though the majority of vehicles stopped had white occupants, vehicles with Latino occupants were much more likely to be subject to a prolonged stop and were 26 times more likely to be asked for identification. Less than one percent of vehicles with white occupants were asked for ID. The report also showed that, of the thousands of recorded vehicle stops, none resulted in the apprehension of any criminals or contraband.
Past protests by People Helping People in the Border Zone against these racist practices were repressed by Border Patrol. The group, along with the ACLU, even filed a federal lawsuit against Border Patrol in November 2014 claiming that Border Patrol agents blocked their attempts to monitor the checkpoint. This occurred months after the ACLU filed a formal complaint in April demanding that Border Patrol “immediately cease interfering with lawful protest and monitoring of the Arivaca Road checkpoint and respect the civil rights of all residents and motorists at Border Patrol checkpoints.”
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva also visited Arivaca last year to announce that he would put together a federal congressional hearing with Department of Homeland Security officials on the negative impacts of the checkpoints. Protesters at Wednesday’s action said that the protest was also to encourage Grijalva to keep that promise. No date for the hearing has been set so far, but the protesters are determined to fight against these checkpoints in the streets, in the courts, and in government buildings until they are gone.
“It is probably naive to think that our actions today are going to close the checkpoint,” Arivaca resident and protester Kristen Randall told the Arizona Republic. “But we need to cause a tidal wave of awareness, so people might see that this [is] going on right here in America.”