Just because she's the patrol agent in charge of the Nogales Border Patrol Station, it doesn't mean Leslie Lawson is exempt from waiting in line at the Interstate 19 immigration checkpoint in Tubac.
Lawson told about 50 members of the Tubac-based Santa Cruz Valley Citizens Council on Oct. 17 that she travels through the checkpoint daily as she heads home to Green Valley, and she doesn't have more than a two-minute wait in line.
Even so, she said she knows many people would prefer that there is no checkpoint on the highway. "I understand there are strong feelings about securing the border at the border," she said.
Lawson explained that the location of the checkpoint was not chosen without thought. The main reason is that there is no through frontage road between exits 40 and 42 for people to easily go around the checkpoint. She said it's also one of the narrowest parts of the Santa Cruz River Valley. "It allows us the tactical advantage."
Simply because the checkpoint is 24 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, that doesn't move it outside of the border region. "One hundred air miles is still, technically, the border," she said.
Several people at the meeting told Lawson that they don't believe a Border Patrol agent should ask any follow-up questions at the checkpoint if a person says they are a U.S. citizen and that appears to be the truth.
Lawson said many of the agents are new to their job and so "we're working with our legal department as to what they can, and cannot say, and how best to resolve a situation when a person is unwilling to cooperate with questions.
"If you have a situation where you feel the agent on primary has not treated you the way you feel you should be treated, ask to speak to a supervisor immediately," she said. "If you don't feel that was resolved, then ask that supervisor to refer you to the public affairs office for a formal complaint."
One attendee at the meeting asked about the 10 to 15 marked Border Patrol vehicles parked on the frontage road daily next to the checkpoint. "It looks like a small motor pool," the person said.
"We have cut that down to the minimum we need," Lawson said. Before the policy was changed, agents had to report to the Nogales station even if they lived north of Tubac. They would pick up their work vehicles and drive back to the checkpoint.
"We decided to station the vehicles (at the checkpoint) and have everybody come to the checkpoint. That alone saved the Nogales station $300,000 in gasoline. It also gave us an hour on either end for deployment time, so you have more people roving," she said.
Jim Patterson, second vice president of the council, said, "I don't want you to mistake the courtesy (shown at the meeting) for any belief that we're accepting this checkpoint. There are many here who are opposed to a permanent checkpoint."
Some business owners in Tubac, Rio Rico and Nogales have complained that the checkpoint deters tourists from traveling south of Green Valley.