FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Life Near the Mexican Border

by JOHN HEID

“You have no rights here!” barked a U.S. Border Patrol agent to a resident of Arivaca, AZ who was passing through a Customs and Border Protection checkpoint 23 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

This remark confirms a sense of violation of rights that many borderlands residents have when encountering one of the 71 permanent or tactical checkpoints scattered across the southwestern U.S. These off-border sites were condoned by the U.S. Supreme Court more than 40 years ago. Stops were intended to be brief, and limited to verifying residence status. They were to be situated within a reasonable distance from the border. This distance was determined to be 100 miles from any external boundary and today roughly encompasses two-thirds of the U.S. population. People in the southwest call this region the “constitution-free zone.”

Arivaca, a community of roughly 700 people, is situated 11miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border and within 30 miles of three Border Patrol checkpoints. There is no way out of town without having to pass through one. This rural community boasts the “oldest standing school house in Arizona,” built in 1879. Arivaca was established during the silver mining rush of the mid-late 1800’s. Today its population is a multicultural mix of cattle ranchers, artists, retirees, many of them school teachers, and local service workers. There is a general store, one bar, one Catholic church and one Baptist church as well as a coffee shop, public library, a handful of small businesses and a post office. Arivaca is the quintessential bucolic small town U.S.A.

Today, however, Arivaca finds itself in the heart of a migration corridor as a result of U.S. border enforcement policy which has funneled migrant-travelers into harsher, more remote desert terrain. Over the last two decades residents have witnessed the human toll of this policy. Now finding the bodies of deceased migrants in the arroyos around town is not a rare event. Residents have also seen a marked increase in the number of people walking around and through town. Usually these travelers are exhausted, hungry and many are in urgent need of medical care.

While Arivacans do not necessarily agree about immigration policy, the common response to migrants has been to offer food and water as they pass through. What has caused resentment, however, has been the militarization of their community in response to this flow of migrants. The influx of Border Patrol agents with their helicopters, drones, surveillance towers, ground sensors and check points has substantially altered the lives of every Arivacan. Many say they do not feel safer for this intrusion into their lives. In fact, people feel less secure. Arivacans say they are living in a war zone and they are not atypical of the many US communities near the Mexican border.

Two years ago a handful of community members came together to share their reactions to the militarization foisted upon them. A grassroots organization formed, “People Helping People” (phparivaca@gmail.com). Their mantra: “People helping people in the border zone, restoring peace and justice in the borderlands.” Soon after the group opened a volunteer staffed Humanitarian Aid Office on Main Street, across from the general store and bar. Residents now had a place to gather and share stories and ideas as well as to offer aid to those traveling through.

As people listened to one another they discovered a common sense of the negative impact Border Patrol’s presence was having on their daily lives and their community. Check points became a focus. Many had experienced harassment, racial profiling and unwarranted queries and searches by agents at the check points. They noted the loss of business in town and a decline in real estate values. They realized that their beloved community, Arivaca, once a popular tourist attraction, had come to be perceived as a dangerous place to visit. After all people now have to cross through a BP checkpoint to enter town from any direction.

Conversation led to action. Last July, a campaign focusing on the most heavily used check point began to take shape. After extensive meetings a petition to close the seven-year-old “temporary” checkpoint was initiated. More than a third of the community signed on, including 11 local small business owners. Hundreds of signatures were also received from people who live in the region.

On December 8, 2013 Border Patrol Sector Chief Manuel Padilla Jr. was invited to receive the petition at the check point. When residents arrived they did not find Mr. Padilla, but rather a closed check point. A lively “family friendly” rally ensued. Arivacans celebrated a brief moment of an interrogation-free highway to their homes but as importantly, the community celebrated their coming out to recover some measure of voice in their community and their lives. The posters that day dramatized Arivaca’s spirit: “Check Points Divide Us,” “Do You Feel Safer?” “Make checkpoints a thing of the past.” A four-year-old was seen toting around one that simply said: “Has any checkpoint, anywhere, made this a better world?” “People Helping People” was on the move.

Next, residents requested a meeting with Mr. Padilla within 30 days to address their concerns. When a month passed without reply, a vigil was held at the Border Patrol headquarters in Tucson to announce the establishment of a citizen monitoring of the check point to document harassment and violation of rights. Within weeks Mr. Padilla responded saying the check point would remain open. Period.

On February 26 the inaugural observation of the check point began. Three dozen residents and supporters turned out—and at least as many Border Patrol agents and sheriff’s deputies. Six Arivacans took their positions with cameras and clipboards in hand. The lines of creative tension were drawn. While arrests were threatened, none occurred. The community held forth and plans to continue the monitoring until the check point is closed.

The long term vision is an end to all suffering and death in the desert, an end to all border militarization, humane immigration policy, and a restoration of authentic security to Arivaca and the entire borderlands for residents and visitors alike. After all “Our Communities Are Not War zones!”

John Heid is a member of the Rose of the Desert community in Tucson, AZ.

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Convention Con
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail