A US Border Patrol agent patrols along the border fence between Arizona and Mexico. (Getty Images)
Phoenix, AZ (written by Daniel Gonzalez/The Arizona Republic) -- The wife and a friend of former Arizona governor Raul Castro are calling for changes in Border Patrol procedures after agents recently detained the frail 96-year-old in 100-degree heat for more than half an hour at a checkpoint near Tubac.
Castro said he was on the way from his home in Nogales on June 12 to celebrate his 96th birthday in Tucson when his vehicle triggered a radiation sensor at the Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 19.
Castro said the agents sent him to a secondary inspection area and continued to question him outside his vehicle for 40 to 45 minutes in the heat even though he explained that he had undergone hospital testing the previous day on his pacemaker that triggered the sensor.
Castro has downplayed the incident, which happened just before noon during the hottest part of the day. His wife and driver, however, were appalled.
"It's traumatic to say the least for an old man," said Castro's wife, Patricia.
She said the Border Patrol needs to "use a little more common sense" when they come across elderly people who have undergone medical procedures.
Anne Doan, a close family friend from Nogales who was driving Castro to the birthday luncheon in Tucson, wrote a letter to the Nogales International newspaper blasting the Border Patrol's treatment of Castro.
"I was helpless and overwhelmed by the incident," Doan wrote. "I felt the agents had no regard for the governor's background or age or physical condition. I was embarrassed as I watched the governor being needlessly treated like a nuclear threat."
In her letter recounting the incident, Doan said that after being sent to secondary inspection, Castro was told to stand under a tent. He was wearing a suit and and the temperature was 100 degrees but agents refused her request to let Castro remain in the air-conditioned car because of the heat, she said.
"The agents said (they) could not and that they had a fan under the tent," she wrote.
After being asked to sign some documents, they let Castro leave, she said.
"I understand Border Patrol has a job to do, but this was absolutely ridiculous," Doan wrote. "I feel less safe knowing that time and money is being wasted by agents who must check a box of file a paper knowing full well that there is o threat."
The Mexican-born Castro was governor of Arizona from 1974 to 1977. He was the state's first and only Hispanic governor. He and his wife retired in Nogales after Castro served as the U.S. ambassador in Argentina. Castro also served as US. ambassador in Bolivia, El Salvador in the 1960s.
In an interview, Castro told The Republic that he was exposed to the sun during part of the questioning.
"The sun was blazing on me," he said.
Castro said he was "not thrilled" by the why he was treated but did not file a complaint.
He said he understands that Border Patrol agents are "there to do a job" but they need a better system for dealing with elderly people.
"Once I identified myself, who I was, and that I had been to the doctor, I was under medical care, I have a pacemaker on my heart, (I would have thought) that they would have been more considerate and said, 'Keep on going.' But that didn't happen," Castro said.
The Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to email and telephone requests for comment.
Alessandra Soler, executive director of the American Civil Liberties of Arizona, said Castro's treatment was not an isolated incident.
"This happens all the time in terms of these types of indiscriminate stops of individuals not suspected of any wrong doing. They are very routine," Soler said.
Soler said agents should have used their discretion instead of relying solely on technology to detain Castro.
"I think most people would agree that subjecting a 96-year-old man to secondary screening does little to secure our borders and a man who had just informed them that he had undergone this medical procedure," she said.