For some Arizonans, it’s a frustrating or uneasy routine they have to repeat every single day: driving through a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint miles north of the actual border.
Although the agency considers these interior checkpoints “essential” to its mission to detect and prevent people from entering the country illegally, a government report released Wednesday found these checkpoints are responsible for a small fraction of the agency’s apprehensions.
According to the Government Accountability Office report, only about 2 percent of the Border Patrol’s apprehensions took place at checkpoints from fiscal years 2012 through 2016.
Instead, the GAO found the agency is increasingly arresting people closer to the actual border. In 2016, 42 percent of apprehensions were a half-mile or less from the border compared to 24 percent in fiscal year 2012.
“There are millions of people that are affected day in and day out by the intrusiveness of these checkpoints and other enforcement operations – enforcement operations that are designed to catch criminals but end up, a large portion of the time, harassing local communities,” said ACLU of Arizona staff attorney Billy Peard.
There are 15 checkpoints in the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. The Yuma Sector, which includes the eastern reaches of California and all of Nevada, has 11 checkpoints, according to the report.
Checkpoints are generally located on highways 25 to 100 miles from the border.
The GAO report found checkpoints were a major factor in another kind of enforcement activity: seizures.
Nearly half the time the Border Patrol finds something illegal and seizes it, it happens at a checkpoint. But often not from the people you’d expect.
“Forty percent of seizures at checkpoints were 1 ounce or less of marijuana from U.S. citizens,” the report found. “In contrast, seizures at other locations were more often higher quantities of marijuana seized from aliens.”
Peard says that suggests interior checkpoints are more about drug enforcement than immigration enforcement, something that could raise questions about the constitutionality of the checkpoints.
“That is not the stated objective and I don't think that's what the average taxpayer thinks that they're paying for when they think of the function of the border patrol protecting us,” he said.
The report also assessed the time agents spend on certain tasks, and found Border Patrol agents spend about 9.4 percent of their patrol and operations hours assigned to checkpoints.
In a written response to the findings, the director of the Department of Homeland Security's GAO-OIG Liaison Office said DHS was “pleased to note GAO’s recognition of the many factors and challenges that must be considered by the U.S. Border Patrol when making agent deployment decisions.”
"The Border Patrol remains committed to strengthening checkpoint design and staffing, and improving the measurement and reporting of checkpoint effectiveness, including community impacts,” DHS’ Jim Crumpacker wrote.
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