AMADO, Ariz. — Border-area residents, upset with what they called an increased militarized presence in their community, began an effort Wednesday to monitor Border Patrol actions at a federal immigration checkpoint about 25 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border in southern Arizona.
Organizers with a humanitarian aid group called People Helping People in the Border Zone have called on the Border Patrol to remove the checkpoint in Amado, a town of about 300 people. Some residents say they have to deal with unnecessary delays, harassment and sometimes abuse at the checkpoint.
Border Patrol officials, who have described the checkpoint as temporary even though it's been in place for seven years, said they had no plans to remove it.
"In the Tucson sector, checkpoints remain a critical piece of infrastructure and a highly effective tool in our enforcement efforts to secure our nation's borders," a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official said in a statement.
Although federal officials have released apprehension and seizure statistics for all checkpoints in Arizona's Tucson sector, they have refused to provide numbers on each one separately.
That's why the group is monitoring this one in particular, said Leesa Jacobson, a founding member of People Helping People and a librarian in Arivaca. "If they say they don't keep this data, we intend to monitor and gather it for them," she said.
Some residents in Arivaca question the effectiveness of the checkpoint if federal officials won't release data, Jacobson said. Arivaca is a town of about 600 residents near the U.S.-Mexico border; its residents must pass through the Amado checkpoint to reach Tucson.
On Wednesday, about 30 people gathered at the checkpoint to announce the monitoring program. Six people took the first shift. Wearing construction vests and sitting on red fold-out chairs, they filled in sheets to document the traffic, recording details such as time, type of vehicle and the gender and ethnicity of motorists and their passengers.
Bobbie Chitwood, who has lived in Arivaca for 36 years, says she feels compelled to make a stand and plans to volunteer to monitor the checkpoint at least once a week.
"This just impedes the movement of people," Chitwood said. "It feels very militaristic. The checkpoints feel like the beginning of something that could get worse. I don't like being stopped by people with guns."
Observing Border Patrol operations is legal as long as it doesn't interfere with agency activities, according to Customs and Border Protection officials.
Bob Bertolini, who volunteered as a monitor, says the checkpoint reminds him of those he had to go through when he was a construction worker in the rebuilding of Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I have flashbacks when I go north of Arivaca. 'Are they going to be Iraqi soldiers? Al Qaeda? Are they going to blow me away?'" he said.
He then shakes his head to try to snap out of it, he said.
"This is America," Bertolini said. "This shouldn't be happening here."
By early afternoon, Lloyd Easterling, the deputy patrol agent in charge of the Tucson sector, had heard about the crowd and drove to the Amado checkpoint. He said he was willing to set up a town hall in Arivaca with residents to discuss the issue.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times