Recent Events

PHP holds open community meetings every Sunday at 3pm at the Arivaca Humanitarian Aid Office. All are welcome!

Border Residents Successfully Target a 2ndBorder Patrol Checkpoint

Members of rural community initiate oversight effort at Hwy 286 checkpoint, seek accountability from the US Border Patrol, will return Thursday.

For Immediate Release
[February 4, 2016]

Contact: People Helping People in the Border Zone

Phone: 520-398-3093


ARIVACA, AZ—On Wednesday, February 3rd, a group of border residents launched an independent oversight effort at another US Border Patrol checkpoint, this time on Highway 286, 26 miles north of the border with Mexico. Residents of Arivaca, Az are dissatisfied with the permanent presence of such checkpoints surrounding their small rural community. For more than two years, they have demanded the immediate removal of interior checkpoints, citing widespread abuse, harassment, racial profiling, and a lack of accountability within the agency. On Wednesday, residents successfully stationed themselves directly across from the primary inspection area at the Hwy 286 checkpoint, collecting data and deterring rights violations. See video here.

Once established at the checkpoint yesterday morning, residents were told by US Border Patrol personnel to move out of the area, attempting to prevent monitors from being close enough to effectively observe. Monitors did not back down, explaining that they are peaceful, non-interfering, and there to exercise their right to observe law enforcement agents operating in a public capacity. Later Agent S. Spencer, Acting Deputy Agent in Charge of the Tucson Station, arrived on scene, insisting that the monitors move back several hundred feet. Again residents held their ground and remained across from primary inspection for the rest of the day. Said Arivaca community member Patty Miller, “today we are here to provide needed oversight, not to disrupt.”

When asked by monitors, agents at the checkpoint refused to disclose their agent numbers.

This is the first time that the 286 Hwy Border Patrol checkpoint has been monitored by border residents. This checkpoint is part of a system of interior Border Patrol checkpoints which residents say do not serve their stated purpose. Such interior checkpoints conduct few to no recorded arrests of undocumented migrants or interdictions of drug traffic; interior checkpoints were responsible for only 0.67% of all apprehensions in the Tucson Sector in FY2013.

Meanwhile, racial profiling and rights violations are rampant at interior checkpoints. A report published by Arivaca checkpoint monitors found that Latino motorists are 26 times more likely to show ID than white motorists and 20 times more likely to be pulled into secondary inspection. Most complaints go nowhere within the agency. Said Arivaca resident Eva Lewis, “it has fallen on local residents to hold the Border Patrol accountable.”

Residents have been monitoring the checkpoint on Arivaca road for the past two years. Half of the community of Arivaca has signed a petition calling for it’s immediate removal. The checkpoints on Arivaca Road and Hwy 286 block the only roads in or out of Arivaca.

Wednesday’s effort at Hwy 286 widens the campaign to bring accountability to a US Border Patrol. Residents will return to monitor today, Thursday, February 4th.




Residents Sit-In at US Border Patrol Checkpoint, Call on Rep. Grijalva to Support Its Permanent Closure

The immigration enforcement agency sides against borderlands residents with a massive show of force. Residents hold public hearing calling on DHS for removal of all inland immigration checkpoints. image

On Wednesday, see May 27th, approximately 100 Arivaca residents and supporters gathered at the Border Patrol checkpoint on Arivaca Road to hold a public hearing demanding the removal of the checkpoint. Community members called on US Congressman Grijalva to deliver on his promise to hold a federal hearing on the issue before Department of Homeland Security officials.

Arivaca residents and supporters gathered at 10am and peacefully proceeded to the checkpoint to hold the hearing. Upon entering the checkpoint, they were met with a blockade of armed Border Patrol agents who used physical force, attempting to move the residents back. Despite this intimidation, protesters held their ground and sat-in while community members held a public hearing calling for the removal of the checkpoint.

At the event, local business leaders, parents, seniors, youth and experts cited widespread abuse and harassment, rights violations, racial profiling, and economic deterioration as direct results of the checkpoints placed on all outbound roads from the small rural community. Local business owner Maggie Milinovich said, “our reverse-gated community is a barrier to tourists…this checkpoint is choking our community.” Carlotta Wray spoke about her experiences being racially-profiled by Border Patrol, saying, “because of our brown skin, me and most of my family have to reach into our pockets for ID at the checkpoint to prove that we’re legal citizens in our own town, I’m sick of it.” Patty Miller said of the ongoing military-style presence of Border Patrol in the Arivaca community, “it’s like a war zone all the time.”

Protesters called on US Representative Raul Grijalva to deliver on his promise to hold a Congressional Hearing on the negative impact of the Border Patrol checkpoint. Community members displayed a large banner reading, “Rep. Grijalva: When Is Our Hearing?” Arivaca resident Jack Driscoll said, “it was inspiring to have Grijalva’s support, now we need him to keep his word and give us our hearing.”

At the same time as the Arivaca protest, communities across the state were holding demonstrations against border militarization in Bisbee, Ajo, Patagonia, and on the Tohono O’odham Nation in a regional day of action. See the coalition press release for more details.

The sit-in lasted for several hours and ended in a showdown with Border Patrol grabbing and shoving back peaceful community members and supporters. Pima County Sheriffs stood at the ready armed with crowd dispersal weapons. Community members were appalled at this treatment, “this is a metaphor for the threat of violence we face daily as border residents at the hands of the Border Patrol—this is why we want the checkpoint gone,” said Arivaca resident Sophie Smith.

BREAKING: Residents Taking Over Border Patrol Checkpoint on Arivaca Road





Residents of Arivaca, health Arizona and supporters are shutting down the US Border Patrol checkpoint on Arivaca Road, unhealthy calling on US Congressman Grijalva to deliver on his promise to hold a federal hearing on the issue before DHS officials. Community members are demanding the removal of all internal Border Patrol checkpoints, cialis starting with the one on Arivaca Road, and are calling for an end to the militarization of their community. Today’s protest is part of a day of action being organized by communities throughout the Arizona-Mexico borderlands and on the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Visit for updates on the action in Arivaca as well as actions happening throughout the borderlands on May 27. Updates can also be found via twitter @May27DayOfAction or on the End Border Patrol Checkpoints Facebook page.

Border Communities To Hold Day of Action Calling For Demilitarization

On May 27th, 7 border communities will hold simultaneous events and protests across southern Arizona calling for the demilitarization of the borderlands.

For Immediate Release
[May 25, 2015]

Contact:  Border Communities Coalition Media Team

Phone: 520-603-9110




ARIZONA- On Wednesday, May 27th southern border communities will be acting in concert to demonstrate for border demilitarization. Community events and protest actions will be held in multiple locations across the southwest. The day of action is being organized by a coalition of 7 autonomous local community groups whose border towns have been drastically altered by unprecedented levels of militarization and policing.

For more than a decade, the Department of Homeland Security has flooded the U.S.-Mexico border region with policing and military infrastructure. Checkpoints, surveillance towers, motion-detector sensors, helicopters, drones, and thousands of federal agents on the ground have become facts of life for those living on the border.

This “border zone” is expanding daily to impact an increasing number of communities and areas. As a consequence, borderlands residents live under increasing fear and intimidation. Racial profiling, loss of constitutional rights, and the violation of indigenous sovereignty are rampant. Because of the concentration of enforcement activities, communities are suffering economic deterioration, including the decline in property value and loss of tourism.

Under the Border Patrol policy of Prevention Through Deterrence, the building of walls in binational cities along the border has divided communities and ecosystems. These walls force undocumented migration into the most arid, remote, and deadly regions of the U.S.-Mexico border, which has led to thousands of migrant deaths. Rural borderlands residents are daily faced with the massive human tragedy caused by US immigration policies.

DHS has used its unprecedented power to waive 37 federal environmental protection laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act in states along the U.S.-Mexico border, leading to wide reaching environmental degradation. The expanding policing of the border has opened a $544 billion global border security industry, making big business out of public tax dollars.

Though often rural and isolated, we are coming together to say no to endless border militarization. We are united together to show that our communities are not war zones and that we are not alone. On the May 27th day of action, the coalition is calling for the demilitarization of the borderlands with the following local actions and demands:


Challenge: Recognition that migrant lives matter and that community members in this area have rights.

Action: The Ajo Art Gallery will feature photography and art depicting a border theme. There will be a pop up gallery in which artists are invited to display their art, ready to hang, first come first serve.  At 6pm, a drop cloth will be displayed near the murals in the alley south of the plaza. The public is invited to draw, paint, write, and contribute. Musicians are also invited to display their talents. A booth will provide information and education on issues surrounding migrants in the desert. Light refreshments will be served. At sunset, the event will move to the plaza for a candlelight vigil for all lives lost in the desert as well as those who have experienced trauma as a result of the border. All are welcome!

Time/Location: Ajo Art Gallery; Ajo Plaza at 6pm

Local Media Liaison Contact: Mel Ortega, Phone: (520) 954-5448, Email:


Organization: People Helping People in the Border Zone

Demand: Remove all interior Border Patrol checkpoints.

Action: Community Hearing and Sit-In to Close the Arivaca Road Border Patrol Checkpoint .(See separate full press release on this action).

Time/Location: 10am at the Border Patrol checkpoint on Arivaca Road in Amado, Arizona.

Local Media Liaison Contact: PHP Media Team: 520-398-3093



Organization: The Bisbee Border Coalition

Demands: 1) A halt to further construction and overuse of roads in the Mule Mountains and surrounding valleys and especially in the San Pedro River riparian corridor. 2) Curtailment of the expansion of Border Patrol Complexes. 3) An end to further Stonegarden involvement by local law enforcement.

Action: Residents of Bisbee, Arizona, will meet at Grassy Park in Old Bisbee at 3PM for music, art, and poster making followed by a demonstration in the traffic circle as part of the May 27th Day of Action.

Time/Location: 3pm at Grassy Park in Old Bisbee

Local Media Liaison Contact: Bisbee Border Coalition Media, 520-678-5266



Request: Any laws or policies created and enacted on the border by the DHS, government officials, or corporate bodies do not waive the cultural and environmental laws that act as protection for the land and the people who call the border home.

Action: Open Forum with leading cultural and environmental experts talking about border reality and “militarization”, facilitated Q&A and sharing of citizens’ border stories and border vignettes from high school students.

Time/Location: Town of Patagonia Park, 6pm

Local Media Liaison Contact:, Erin Blanding (520-841-2104)


Tohono O’odham Nation

Organization: Tohono O’odham Hemajkam Rights Network (TOHRN)


  1. Respect and Acknowledge Tohono O’odham and Hia-Ced O’odham land
  2. Respect the himdag (way of life)
  3. Respect elders and children
  4. Respect the land and all life on it
  5. No mountaintop surveillance and towers
  6. No checkpoints
  7. No border patrol
  8. No militarization
  9. No borders
  10. Freedom of movement


Vigil in remembrance of Bennett Patricio, those who have lost their lives in the desert, and all those who have been abused and/or experienced trauma due to militarization. In addition to the vigil, we will be hanging banners and releasing a call to action for those at home to light a candle in prayer. Community members will be invited to take a picture and post it on the TOHRN Facebook page under #TOHRNdayofaction.

Time/Location: 6-8pm, Tohono Plaza in Sells, AZ

Local Media Liaison Contact: Amy Juan, (520) 993-1917,

TOHRN website:




Organization: Border Patrol Victims Network

Demand: End the use of excessive force and the culture of impunity in the US Border Patrol.

Action: Vigil for Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, a Mexican teenager in Nogales, Sonora, who was fatally shot through the border fence by a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

Time/Location: **PLEASE NOTE, THIS ACTION IS BEING HELD ON MAY 26TH** 1pm, Federal Courthouse, 405 W. Congress St., Tucson, Ariz.

Local Media Liaison Contact: 520-226-7523


12th Annual Migrant Trail Walk

Demand: End all migrant deaths on the border.

Action: The week of May 25, 2015, more than fifty participants from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, and Central America will once again walk 75-miles over the course of a week to call attention to the human rights crisis occurring on the southern border. The twelfth annual Migrant Trail: We Walk for Life is a multi-national endeavor of allies who hail from diverse regions, faith backgrounds, ages, and ethnicities and walk together in solidarity with our migrant friends and their families to demand an end to migrant deaths on the border. The Migrant Trail is a non-violent, family-friendly event, and is free and open to the community. Participants and organizers of the Migrant Trail call on all people of conscience to stand in solidarity with our migrant sisters and brothers.

Time/Location: On Wednesday, May 27th, the walk will be passing through the Border Patrol Checkpoint on US286 north of Sasabe, Az. between 9-10am.

Local Media Liaison Contact:, Contact: Chandra Russo, English Language, (720) 273-2022; Gloria Ivonne Moreno, Spanish Language, (212) 961-7611


Visit for further updates on the ongoing work of this border communities coalition.


Arivacans to Take Over Border Patrol Checkpoint, Call for its Closure

Community members will sit-in at the checkpoint to show public support for Rep. Grijalva’s promised federal hearing

For Immediate Release
[May 25, 2015]                                                                                                                   

Amado, AZ- At 10am on Wednesday, May 27 residents of the border town of Arivaca, AZ will take dramatic action to close the temporary Border Patrol checkpoint that has been stationed in their community for more than 8 years. Community members and supporters will sit-in at the checkpoint on Arivaca Road to hold a public hearing out on the damaging effects of immigration checkpoints in border communities. Citing widespread racial profiling, constitutional rights violations, abuse and harassment, economic deterioration, and increases in migrant deaths, the Arivaca community is calling on the Department of Homeland Security to remove all inland Border Patrol checkpoints. US Representative Raul Grijalva has promised to hold a federal congressional hearing before DHS officials on the issue.

Arivaca residents have been campaigning for the removal of this temporary Border Patrol checkpoint for the past two years. US Rep. Raul Grijalva, who has been a key supporter of borderlands communities, traveled to Arivaca last year to announce his plans to hold an Ad-hoc Congressional Hearing on the negative impact of the Border Patrol checkpoint. However, Rep. Grijalva never set a date for this hearing. Now, nearly one year later, Arivacans will demonstrate their support for him to deliver on his promise.

Residents are preparing to stand their ground at the checkpoint Wednesday as local business leaders, families, and experts are expected to speak to the negative effects of checkpoints. In this stand off between community interest and DHS policy, organizers are hoping that the US Border Patrol and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department will respect the right to exercise free speech in this peaceful demonstration.

Throughout the week, actions for border demilitarization are taking place across southern Arizona. At the same time as the Arivaca protest, border communities in Bisbee, Ajo, Patagonia, and Sells will be holding simultaneous demonstrations in a regional day of action. See the border communities coalition press release for more information.

Residents will be available for comment by phone ahead of the event and in-person at the checkpoint on the 27th.


Hearing Tomorrow in Community Lawsuit Against Border Patrol

TUCSON, buy Ariz.—A preliminary injunction hearing is being held at the DeConcini Federal Courthouse in connection with the lawsuit that the ACLU has filed against the US Border Patrol on behalf of two Arivaca, AZ residents and community organizers. Residents filed suit in November over the harassment, retaliation, and restrictions of first amendment activities that they experienced at the Border Patrol checkpoint on Arivaca Road when they took part in a community-based effort to peaceably monitor the activities of border enforcement agents. Specifically, in response to being independently observed, the US Border Patrol instituted an “enforcement zone” around the Arivaca Road checkpoint, effectively pushing monitors back and impeding their attempts to observe and record data there. The official checkpoint monitoring report can be found here. Residents will be making a press statement in front of the courthouse immediately following the judge’s ruling and will be available for interviews at that time.
What:  Injunction Hearing in the Arivaca Resident’s Law Suit Against Border Patrol
When: Tuesday, April 21st 2015 at 10 am
Where: DeConcini Federal Courthouse, 405 W Congress St #1500, Tucson, AZ 85701

What Cannot Be Counted

This past November, thumb US Border Patrol was ordered by a judge to finally release the name of the agent who fired his gun through the Nogales, Arizona/Sonora border fence on October 10th, 2012 to kill 16-year old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez on the Mexico side. We now know it was BP agent Lonnie Swartz who emptied six rounds into the unarmed teenager’s back that morning. Sparking ongoing protests, the case of Jose Antonio has become symbol for the impunity of agents using lethal force in the field; since 2005, BP agents have shot and killed at least 48 people while acting in an official capacity. To this date, none of those agents have been disciplined or prosecuted.

While Border Patrol’s use of force has come under recent public scrutiny, the majority of deaths in the borderlands are not the result of BP gunfire. Since 1999, the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office has handled more than 2,800 human remains of those attempting to migrate through the southern Arizona deserts. The primary causes of death are ‘exposure’ and ‘undetermined’—the latter referring to cases where a body has undergone major decomposition and/or only bone fragments remain.

Since Border Patrol adopted Prevention Through Deterrence strategy to funnel unauthorized migration away from border cities and into the remote and rugged desert regions along the border, deaths due to environmental causes have proliferated. The harsh heat and bitter cold, treacherous terrain, polluted water sources, and near total isolation from possible rescue are now the major culprits in this large-scale human tragedy.

The number of those who have lost their lives in the borderlands is unknowable. With migration fanning out over vast, multi-state rural desert and grasslands corridors, human remains are recovered only when encountered by passersby. In southern Arizona, the hot sun and quick winds of the Sonoran desert routinely sweep the folding landscape, with scavenging animals contributing to the rapid disappearance of human remains. Many of the dead will never been found.[i]

Nonetheless, a handful of government and independent agencies produce statistical information on the number of recovered human remains from the border zone. Border Patrol itself offers the lowest statistics on migrant death to the public.[ii] A report from the Binational Migration Institute examined Border Patrol’s method for counting recovered human remains and found that the agency uses several major exclusions in their statistics to produce a lowered death count:[iii]

1) Non-Border Counties: Border Patrol does not count remains from outside of border counties that were recovered without the direct involvement of Border Patrol personnel. Yet a large number of deaths occur in non-border counties and are handled by local law enforcement, such in Brooks County, Texas, which has seen a flood of Central American migration in the past two years. The BP inland checkpoint in Brooks County lays 90 miles north of the physical border. As a result, there has been an explosion in migrant deaths in the surrounding ranchlands of those attempting to circumvent the checkpoint on foot—so much so that for a time, unidentified cadavers were buried in mass graves, overflowing the local cemetery. With a large number of deaths also occurring on Tohono O’odham reservation land and handled by Tribal Police, this exclusion is a primary source of undercounting.

2) Smuggling: Border Patrol does not count the remains of those crossing who appear to have been smuggling drugs or guiding people through the desert. However many are forced under threat of violence to carry drugs by cartel members, and smuggling can be a means of reducing one’s fee to be guided into the US so that it is often those most lacking in resources that end up carrying drugs in the desert. Eliminating migrants involved in smuggling from the death count therefore represents an illogical exclusion.

3) Skeletal Remains: Border Patrol does not count skeletal remains as migrants where cause of death cannot be determined, even when those remains are recovered from high traffic migration routes. The Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office found that in the last six years, ‘undetermined,’ has replaced ‘exposure’ as the primary cause of death of those crossing. Thus by excluding skeletal remains whose cause of death is undetermined, Border Patrol is disappearing a large number of deaths from their statistics.

4) Deaths in Custody/Deaths from Natural Causes: Border Patrol does not include the deaths of migrants while in BP custody after walking in the desert. Nor do they include deaths by “natural causes,” such as heart attack or other pre-existing medical disorder that was aggravated to the point of death while walking dozens of miles through the desert.

All this undercounting led Border Patrol to claim in a fall 2014 press release that “fewer suspected illegal immigrants are being found dead north of the U.S.-Mexico border.”[iv] Citing only their own statistics, BP stated that there were around 100 fewer deaths border-wide that fiscal year, crediting their own increased patrols and enhanced surveillance techniques for the supposed reduction. However this statement represents more a political appeal to a concerned public than a comprehensive account.

The Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office’s account of covered human remains tells a different story, claiming that the ratio of those dying while crossing the border has exponentially increased since the implementation of Prevention Through Deterrence Strategy. Prior to 1999, before migration was funneled into the desert, the PCMEO handled an average of 14 migrant deaths in the southern Arizona deserts per year, with the primary cause being car accidents in connection to vehicular smuggling practices. Since 1999, that number has increased to hover around 200 per year in southern Arizona alone, with the main causes being the consequence of protracted travel on foot through the unpopulated desert.

In turn, there has been a flood of missing persons cases reported to consulates and independent organizations over the past decade. It is clear that BP practice in the desert is disappearing people at an alarming rate; every day, more families wonder what happened to their loved ones.

Border Patrol’s interest in understating the number of migrant deaths comes hand-in-hand with a PR strategy called the Border Safety Initiative (BSI), introduced at the end of the millennium. BSI has included the formation of BORSTAR, a Border Patrol Search & Rescue unit, the implementation a dozen rescue beacons in the western flatlands, and a campaign to post caution signs in migration staging areas in northern Mexico warning of the mortal risks of crossing through the desert.

In all these cases, these BSI tactics pose the enforcement agency not as the veritable engineer of the large-scale human tragedy that plagues the borderlands, but instead as a humanitarian institution working to protect human life against a naturally deadly desert. Let us not be fooled into thinking that the desert is the real enemy to human life in the border zone. Though not always coming from the barrel of a gun, migrant deaths are indeed the grisly signature of the contemporary border enforcement regime playing out indirectly on the desert floor.

Ultimately, this massive loss of life will not be turned back with caution signs or rescue beacons. The dead will disappear from the hills only when Prevention Through Deterrence strategy is toppled and people are no longer pushed into these rugged desert lands by border enforcement. Until then, Arivaca residents are in a unique position to directly combat this human tragedy on a daily basis by placing water gallons at our gates and offering aid to those we encounter: a small but consequential act of care in an otherwise punishing landscape.

[i] Estimates of the real number of migrant deaths vary between three and ten-times the official number recovered from the borderlands.

[ii] The Tucson Citizen has reported that BP undercounts the number of recovered human remains by more than 43% compared to non-government sources.

[iii] The US Government General Accounting Office criticized Border Patrol’s tracking of migrant deaths in a 2006 report on the basis that “the Border Patrol’s approach to tracking and recording deaths has not been implemented consistently across sectors” in so far as the agency does not “specify the frequency with which sector coordinators are to conduct this outreach nor does it outline the methods that coordinators should use to share information about migrant deaths with county coroners or local medical examiners” (25-26).


Like Thousands of Canaries in the Coal Mine: ‘Prevention Through Deterrence’ in the Sonoran Desert

If you live in the area, here you may have noticed a large display at the Border Patrol checkpoint on Arivaca Road in early December. Residents and supporters from surrounding border communities spent 24 hours monitoring the checkpoint in order to collect data on systematic racial profiling there. At the same time, pharmacy a vigil was held for the thousands who have lost their lives while attempting to cross into the United States by way of the surrounding desert lands. One of the signs displayed at the event read “Prevention Through Deterrence = Murder,” leading many to ask about its meaning. A friend requested that I write about my research on Prevention Through Deterrence for The Connection.

“Prevention Through Deterrence” is the name of the Border Patrol strategy penned in the mid-1990s and implemented at the end of the millennium.[1] It is a practice of border policing that has fundamentally altered migration patterns across the U.S.-Mexico border, and has also deeply impacted daily life in Arivaca and in many rural border communities in the southwest.

The concept of Prevention Through Deterrence was first outlined in Border Patrol’s 1994 Strategic Plan.[2] Until that time, the majority of unauthorized northward migration from the Americas had moved through large cities in and around international ports of entry.[3] These border cities were binational and porous, not walled and divided. In the 1994 strategic plan, Border Patrol began to train its gaze on the Sonoran desert as an untapped resource in the game of enforcement.

The 1994 plan describes how the terrain of the desert environment forms “natural barriers to passage.” In the document, Border Patrol reasons that forcing migration hostile deserts would then lead “illegal entrants crossing through remote, uninhabited expanses of land along the border [will] find themselves in mortal danger,” radically increasing the risk of death for those attempting to enter the U.S. without documentation. The threats inherent to traveling through the desert would then function as a deterrent to others considering the journey. In sum, the policy relies on using the heat, terrain, and isolation of the desert to amass a critical number of migrant deaths in the desert in order to create a cautionary effect for others—like thousands of canaries in the coalmine.

In order to move the theatre of migration out of border cities and into the arid desert corridor, a set of infrastructural modifications to urban ports of entry were made. Policies were adopted (Operations Gatekeeper, Safeguard, and Hold the Line) to build up military infrastructure at urban ports of entry. The ports were not armored in order to suppress unauthorized migration. Rather, walls were built as a tactic to redirect the flow of mass migration away from the sealed-off ports and into the open desert.

Prevention Through Deterrence strategy has never been conceived as a plan to halt undocumented migration—the BP report announces from the outset that “a 100 percent apprehension rate is an unreasonable goal.” Rather, the strategy seeks only to effect a “change in traditional traffic patterns,” which would then “shift flow to other areas of southwest border” so that “with traditional entry and smuggling routes disrupted, illegal traffic will be forced over more hostile terrain.”

The report lists a set of “indicators of success” which would measure the efficacy of the strategy once implemented. In addition to shifting migration into the desert, other indicators of success listed include “fee increases by smugglers,” “increased incidences of more sophisticated methods of smuggling at checkpoints,” “more documentation fraud,” “more violence at attempted entries,” “possible increase in complaints (Mexico, interest groups, etc),” and “potential for more protests against immigration policy.” If functioning well, Prevention Through Deterrence would restyle undocumented migration to become more dangerous, more criminalized, more cartel-driven, and more politically fraught, effectively leaning the region into multilateral instability and human crisis for the decades to come.

Over the past twenty years, walls have been built, surveillance towers have been emplaced, cameras perched, and airport-like entry points have been constructed to constrict unauthorized migration in border cities. Human traffic has been successfully redirected into the desert, fanning out across the rural regions north of the line, carving a complex web of trail systems through the treacherous landscape. As the hazards of the desert are wielded to police the border, the remains of more than 2,700 bodies have been recovered from the southern Arizona desert over the past decade. Many more will never be found.

With migration weaving through a vast desert corridor, the challenge that the rural terrain presents for conventional law enforcement operations offers perennial justification to increase federal funding for policing technology, infrastructure, and personnel to surmount it: Boeing surveillance towers, motion sensors, helicopters, drones, ATVS, SUVs, horseback patrols and personnel.

The system of inland immigration checkpoints demarcates the northern edge of the expansive swath of desert being used as the experimental terrain for border security ops, within which Arivaca and many other rural border communities are captured. In this border zone, we now encounter the lost, the sick, and the injured at our doorsteps and answering the questions of armed agents is a fact of life. While transforming the desert landscape, these tactics have therefore also transformed life in small border communities, whose existence appears to be an inconvenient remainder in the calculus of border security.

Ultimately, in order to understand why migration moves through Arivaca and why Border Patrol stages here, we must look first to the policy that has pushed these forces away from cities and into these desert lands. That policy is Prevention Through Deterrence. Before arguments about whether or not people looking for work, fleeing violence, or seeking family reunification should be able to enter the U.S., and what kind of system should or should not exist to provide or deny them status, we first need to reckon with this strategic system of violence that has been politically imposed on these lands and in our communities. For no matter what your belief is about the limits of U.S. citizenship, it is clear that the conversion of these desert lands into an indefinite arena of death and struggle cannot be condoned.

[1] The Department of Homeland Security has occasionally modified its rhetoric with regards to Prevention Through Deterrence. President Obama’s recent executive order on immigration contains a plan to further expand funding and infrastructure for this border security strategy, now described in the even more innocuous and hazy language of “Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Strategy,” nonetheless seeks to increase the “perceived risk” of transnational migration.

[2] The Border Patrol Strategic Plan: 1994 and Beyond, can be found online here:

[3] The 1994 Border Patrol strategic plan predicted that the institution of free trade policies in Mexico and Central America in the mid-1990s would cause a spike in labor-driven migration as small-scale agriculture was brought into direct competition with global agro-business. The Strategic Plan then set out to meet this anticipated surge in migration with a new program of border policing.