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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Slandering Populism: a Chilling Media Habit
Andrew Levine
Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mountain of Tears: the Vanishing Glaciers of the Pacific Northwest
Philippe Marlière
The Neoliberal or the Fascist? What Should French Progressives Do?
Conn Hallinan
America’s New Nuclear Missile Endangers the World
Peter Linebaugh
Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017
Vijay Prashad
Reckless in the White House
Brian Cloughley
Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?
Kathy Kelly
The Shame of Killing Innocent People
Ron Jacobs
Hate Speech as Free Speech: How Does That Work, Exactly?
Andre Vltchek
Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”
Matt Rubenstein
Which Witch Hunt? Liberal Disanalogies
Sami Awad - Yoav Litvin - Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing and Active Hope in the Holyland
Pete Dolack
Tribunal Finds Monsanto an Abuser of Human Rights and Environment
Christopher Ketcham
The Coyote Hunt
Mike Whitney
Putin’s New World Order
Ramzy Baroud
Palestinian, Jewish Voices Must Jointly Challenge Israel’s Past
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 100 Days of Rage and Rapacity
Harvey Wasserman
Marine Le Pen Is a Fascist—Not a ‘Right-Wing Populist,’ Which Is a Contradiction in Terms
William Hawes
World War Whatever
John Stanton
War With North Korea: No Joke
Jim Goodman
NAFTA Needs to be Replaced, Not Renegotiated
Murray Dobbin
What is the Antidote to Trumpism?
Louis Proyect
Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay
Medea Benjamin
Women Beware: Saudi Arabia Charged with Shaping Global Standards for Women’s Equality
Rev. William Alberts
Selling Spiritual Care
Peter Lee
Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition
Cal Winslow
A Special Obscenity: “Guernica” Today
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey’s Kurdish Agenda
Guillermo R. Gil
The Senator Visits Río Piedras
Jeff Mackler
Mumia Abu-Jamal Fights for a New Trial and Freedom 
Cesar Chelala
The Responsibility of Rich Countries in Yemen’s Crisis
Leslie Watson Malachi
Women’s Health is on the Chopping Block, Again
Basav Sen
The Coal Industry is a Job Killer
Judith Bello
Rojava, a Popular Imperial Project
Robert Koehler
A Public Plan for Peace
Sam Pizzigati
The Insider Who Blew the Whistle on Corporate Greed
Nyla Ali Khan
There Has to be a Way Out of the Labyrinth
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
Charles R. Larson
Review: Gregor Hens’ “Nicotine”
David Yearsley
Handel’s Executioner
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail