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Arizonans Sue Border Patrol for Harassment

TUCSON (CN) - Border Patrol agents harass residents of a rural Arizona town for monitoring an internal checkpoint for civil rights abuses, a federal lawsuit claims.

Peter Regan and Leesa Jacobson sued the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs & Border Protection, the U.S. Border Patrol and several officials and agents in Tucson on Thursday.

Despite its "temporary" and "tactical" status, the checkpoint along the rural two-lane road that runs from Interstate 19 west to the tiny, isolated town of Arivaca has been up and running for seven years.

Many of the approximately 700 people who live in Arivaca - about 60 miles southwest of Tucson, 20 miles from I-19 and about 25 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border - must pass through the checkpoint daily to go to work, school or the store.

More than 230 Arivaca residents and 10 business owners have signed a petition calling for the removal of the Arivaca Road checkpoint, according to the lawsuit.

Since February, a local group called "People Helping People" has been monitoring the checkpoint because of a "growing concern about Border Patrol activities in their community, including harassment and civil rights violations by federal agents at the checkpoint," according to the complaint.

Ragan and Jacobson claim that Border Patrol agents in the area did not appreciate the attention.

"In response to the Arivaca residents' campaign, Border Patrol agents unconstitutionally interfered with plaintiffs' speech and retaliated against them by: barring plaintiffs from the public right-of-way adjacent to the checkpoint; requiring them and others monitoring the checkpoint with them to remain at an unreasonably great distance from the checkpoint; obstructing plaintiffs' view by parking vehicles directly in the way; leaving parked vehicles running next to the checkpoint monitors for hours at a time so that the monitors would suffer from noxious fumes emissions; and threatening plaintiffs with arrest, while allowing individuals who supported Defendants the same access to the public right-of-way that defendants denied to plaintiffs and other PHP monitors," the lawsuit states.

Regan and Jacobson seek an injunction to stop the agents from retaliating against monitors for exercising their First Amendment rights.

"They've cordoned us off far away from the checkpoint, parked their trucks to block our view and even threatened to arrest us," Ragan said in a statement. "All of this is on top of the harassment and abuse community members were already experiencing at this checkpoint, which necessitated this campaign in the first place. Instead of responding to our concerns, by imposing these restrictions Border Patrol is doubling down on abuse and retaliating against community members who are just trying to hold them accountable."

The plaintiffs are represented by Daniel Pochoda of the ACLU Foundation of Arizona

According to the initial results of People Helping People's monitoring program, "Data collected from over 100 hours of monitoring and 2,700 checkpoint stops showed that agents at the Arivaca Road checkpoint systematically discriminate against Latino motorists," the ACLU said in a statement.

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