KOLD INVESTIGATES: Are border checkpoints keeping you safe?

Published: Mar. 26, 2019 at 11:42 AM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - KOLD Investigates looked into the who and what actually gets stopped at immigration checkpoints in Southern Arizona.

Immigration checkpoints are a fact of life for tens of thousands of people in our area.

There are about a dozen of them in the state -- the majority in the Tucson area -- all miles from the border. On a daily basis, drivers get stopped and asked if they're American citizens as dogs sniff around vehicles.

Customs and Border Protection agents guard the checkpoints, even while National Guard troops help guard the border because some politicians say we're in a crisis situation.

CBP put in these checkpoints in about decade ago, as a tool to help deal with illegal immigration and drugs.

"We've been stopped on four different occasions going through," said Kurt Rogers, who has lived in Santa Cruz country for 25 years. "So, it's just a terrible inconvenience."

He lives about 2,000 feet from the big checkpoint on Interstate 19 and said he's "angered, frustrated, annoyed and I will tell anyone that's willing to listen that I am opposed to it. I'm for security, but put it on the border where it belongs."

Peter Ragan has to constantly deal with the checkpoint on Arivaca Road. He lives in the small town of Arivaca and there's no way out of town without going through the checkpoint.

"We have to go through this checkpoint whenever we go to do any major things in our lives," said. "To go to a supermarket, to go to a bank, to get building materials. My vehicle in the past has been searched twice without my consent."

The border patrol said the checkpoints are critical to their No. 1 goal - stopping illegal immigration.

But in the KOLD News 13 investigation, we poured over a Government Accounting Office document that studied four years worth of data (2013-16). We also looked through a federal court case in Tucson about the checkpoints in which top border agents testified.

Some of the most startling thing we found were:

  • Only 1 percent of illegal immigrants arrested in the Tucson sector were caught at the checkpoints
  • 40 percent of the people arrested for drugs at checkpoints are American citizens with a small amount of marijuana
  • 0 illegal immigrants were arrested in a six-month period at the checkpoint on SR-86 near Three Points.

We showed the report to Billy Peard of the ACLU.

He's involved in a lawsuit, fighting for the rights of people to protest at the checkpoints. But he said this data should put up alarms for all of us, no matter your political affiliation.

"The average taxpayer thinks and expects that border patrol is keeping us safe, that they are protecting our national sovereignty," Peard said. "I don't think the average taxpayer expects that a large portion of border patrol resources in southern Arizona and across the borderlands are used to enforce small marijuana possession."

In court, Border Patrol has said it "does not use arrest statistics to determine the primary purpose of the checkpoint."

CBP said there is a deterrent factor and checkpoints are one part of their overall border security strategy.

Rogers said the numbers prove the strategy needs to change.

"I'm amazed by those numbers," he said. "I don't see how that keeps the people up here, they should be down where they belong on the border."

We reached out to Customs and Border Protection to ask about how much taxpayer money is spent per year on checkpoints in the Tucson sector.

They told us they couldn't give us the information. Using public information we came up with an estimate of $20 million.

That's just accounting for agent's salaries, not equipment.

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