A pair of southern Arizona residents have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Border Patrol, claiming the agency is stifling its attempts to monitor and protest a Border Patrol checkpoint in their town.
Peter Ragan and Leesa Jacobson are members of a community organization called People Helping People, which, among other things, monitors the practices of Border Patrol agents at the checkpoint in Arivaca. Their lawsuit claims they have been "subject to harassment, intimidation, and retaliation by agents at the checkpoint" -- to the point that they believe their First Amendment right to engage in political speech has been violated.
"Arivaca residents have to drive through this checkpoint every day, and every time they have to answer to an armed federal agent," Jacobson says in a statement released by the ACLU of Arizona. "That's not how this country is supposed to work, but as long as the checkpoint is here I want to do everything I can to document abuses and protest the ongoing militarization of our communities and the border region."
These monitors actually went out to the checkpoint in yellow traffic vests that said "Checkpoint Monitor" on them, and wrote down the details of every stop.
According to the lawsuit, it wasn't long before Border Patrol responded. They allege Border Patrol agents erected barriers to prevent them from getting close to the checkpoint, and threatened them with arrest for getting too close.
"On more than one occasion, agents have parked a Border Patrol vehicle next to the barrier and left the engine running, with exhaust fumes directed at the monitors," the lawsuit states. "In one instance, in an attempt to avoid the exhaust fumes blowing in their direction, the monitors moved to the opposite side of the road. The agent responded by parking a vehicle next to the barrier on that side of the road, again leaving the engine running. Both vehicles were left idling for approximately three hours while the monitors were present."
PHP still recorded the information it could observe, and came back with a report on the activity at the checkpoint. Their report indicates that agents were questioning and searching Latino drivers at a much higher rate than non-Latino drivers. (See the group's full report here.)
"There couldn't be a clearer demonstration of Border Patrol's lack of transparency than literally preventing members of this community from observing the actions of agents in their own town," ACLU of Arizona attorney James Lyall says in a statement. "Border Patrol has paid lip service to transparency and accountability, but our clients' experience shows the agency's promised reforms have yet to become a reality for border residents. Fortunately, people like Peter and Leesa are fighting to ensure the nation's largest federal law enforcement agency is held accountable."
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spokesman Victor Brabble tells New Times it's agency policy not to comment on pending litigation.
"However, what I can tell you is that CBP officers and Border Patrol agents enforce the nation's laws while preserving the civil rights and civil liberties of all people with whom CBP personnel interact," he says in an e-mail. "Our officers and agents are trained to recognize people and situations that present a potential threat or violation of law without regard to race. CBP does not tolerate racial profiling or agent misconduct and appropriately investigates allegations of wrongdoing."
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Border Patrol are seeking a court order preventing the agency from interfering with their protests and monitoring.
The complaint, which outlines specific accounts of confrontations between PHP and Border Patrol, can be found below:
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