ONLY ON KOLD: Smugglers, crossers adapt to checkpoint - Tucson News Now

Border Battle: Smugglers, crossers adapt to I-19 checkpoint

The I-19 checkpoint is about 20 miles north of the international border with Mexico and sits on the major route north from Nogales, Sonora. The I-19 checkpoint is about 20 miles north of the international border with Mexico and sits on the major route north from Nogales, Sonora.
Agent Brent Cagen Agent Brent Cagen
Gary Brasher Gary Brasher
Stuart Lowe Stuart Lowe
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

It's one of the most controversial border checkpoints in Southern Arizona.

The Interstate 19 checkpoint was built to be used on an interim basis but nearly three years later it's still there.

The checkpoint is about 20 miles north of the international border with Mexico and sits on the major route from Nogales, Sonora, north to Tucson and Phoenix.

U.S. Border Patrol agent, Brent Cagen, says drug seizures are prevalent at the checkpoints. 

"Having a checkpoint in the Tucson sector creates the opportunity to stop these criminal organizations at these major points of egress and stop these narcotics from getting into our communities," Cagen said.

Agents call the check point "interim" even though it has been in the same spot since early 2010.  In the Tucson area, Border Patrol say arrests have gone down, but agents are seizing more drugs.

In Fiscal Year 2010, they arrested 212,000 people.  In Fiscal Year 2011, they arrested 123,000.  As for drug seizures, in Fiscal Year 2010 they seized 1,033,226 pounds of drugs and in Fiscal Year 2011 they seized 1,039,000 pounds.

The Border Patrol credits technology and the checkpoints.

Gary Brasher, the President of the Coalition for Safe and Secure Borders, is against the checkpoint.  He says it doesn't work. 

He says the migrants simply bypass the area and head right onto ranchers' and farmers' property.

"We'd like to see that effort compressed closer to the border so it gives people less area to try and maneuver and get around," Brasher said.

Farmers in the area say the Santa Cruz River used to be the main corridor for illegal border crossers but since the I-19 checkpoint was installed, they say crossers are using other routes that are more remote and less accessible.

Stuart Lowe is one of those farmers who knows the problem well.  Lowe lives right next to the checkpoint.

He says the new corridor starts in the Tumacacori Mountains. 

"South of the checkpoint - Tubac, Tumacacori, and Rio Rico - is where the migrants are being let out and then they are flooding through the communities, around the checkpoint," said Lowe.

He says they make their way across the interstate and take a direct route north.  Lowe says they wait in staging areas. In fact, one of the areas is just yards away from his house.

"It's scarier for us to be able to enjoy this space because now you are going to bump into a guide who has something at stake and you don't know what's going to happen," Lowe said.

Local residents like Lowe say they have had this fight already.  He says their biggest hope is that Border Patrol will use the money from the checkpoints and use it further south.

"The resources spent at this checkpoint should be stemming at the border, so it equally protects," said Lowe.

The Border Patrol insists on keeping the I-19 checkpoint where it is.  But agents say if criminal trends change they can always move it. 

Copyright 2012 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

 

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