Arivaca, AZ—In temperatures surging over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the US Border Patrol raided the medical-aid camp of humanitarian organization No More Deaths and detained four individuals receiving medical care. Obstruction of humanitarian aid is an egregious abuse by the law-enforcement agency, a clear violation of international humanitarian law, and a violation of the organization’s agreement with the Tucson Sector Border Patrol.
This afternoon, in an unprecedented show of force, approximately 30 armed agents raided the camp with at least 15 trucks, two quads, and a helicopter to apprehend four patients receiving medical care.Agents from the Border Patrol began surveilling the No More Deaths camp on Tuesday, June 13 at around 4:30 p.m. Agents in vehicles, on foot, and on ATVs surrounded the aid facility and set up a temporary checkpoint at the property line to search those leaving and interrogate them about their citizenship status. The heavy presence of law enforcement has deterred people from accessing critical humanitarian assistance in this period of hot and deadly weather. These events also follow a pattern of increasing surveillance of humanitarian aid over the past few months under the Trump administration.
For the past 13 years, No More Deaths has provided food, water, and medical care for people crossing the Sonoran Desert on foot. The ongoing humanitarian crisis caused by border-enforcement policy has claimed the lives of over seven thousand people since 1998. Human remains are found on average once every three days in the desert of southern Arizona.
Kate Morgan, Abuse Documentation and Advocacy Coordinator for the organization, said, “No More Deaths has documented the deaths and disappearances of hundreds of migrants in the Arivaca corridor of the border. Today’s raid on the medical aid-station is unacceptable and a break in our good-faith agreements with Border Patrol to respect the critical work of No More Deaths.”
John Fife, one of the founders of No More Deaths, commented, “Since 2013 the Tucson Sector of the Border Patrol has had a written agreement with No More Deaths (NMD) that they will respect the NMD camp as a medical facility under the International Red Cross standards, which prohibit government interference with humanitarian-aid centers. That agreement now has been violated by the Border Patrol under the most suspicious circumstances. The Border Patrol acknowledged that they tracked a group for 18 miles, but only after the migrants sought medical treatment did the Border Patrol seek to arrest them. The choice to interdict these people only after they entered the No More Deaths camp is direct evidence that this was a direct attack on humanitarian aid. At the same time, the weather forecast is for record-setting deadly temperatures.”
People crossing the deadly and remote regions of the US–Mexico border often avoid seeking urgent medical care for fear of deportation and incarceration. For this reason, a humanitarian-focused aid station in the desert is an essential tool for preserving life. The targeting of this critical medical aid is a shameful reflection of the current administration’s disregard for the lives of migrants and refugees, making an already dangerous journey even more deadly.
In spite of this, No More Deaths remains committed to our mission to end death and suffering in the desert and will continue to provide humanitarian aid, as we have for the past 13 years.
A Canadian company, Energy Fuels Inc., is about to begin mining high-grade uranium ore just 5 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
If the project goes ahead, the Colorado River could be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, threatening the water supply for 40 million people downstream, including residents of Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
The Canyon Mine, which pre-dates a 2012 ban on uranium mining near the Canyon’s rim, would annually extract 109,500 tons of ore for use in US nuclear reactors. Post-extraction, 750 tonnes of radioactive ore would be transported daily from the Canyon Mine to the White Mesa Mill uranium processing facility in Utah, traversing Arizona in unmarked flatbed trucks covered only with tarpaulins.
The Canyon mine, located 5 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Photo: Garet Bleir
The toxic material would pass through several towns, Navajo communities and the city of Flagstaff en route to the processing facility, which is only three miles from the White Mountain Ute tribal community.
From extraction to transport and processing, every stage of the uranium project could expose this iconic landscape, its watershed and inhabitants to high levels of radiation.
There’s more. With President Trump’s recent cuts to the EPA, and the Koch Brothers’ campaign to remove the uranium mining ban, the entire Grand Canyon region faces an unprecedented threat.
The Havasupai Nation, whose only water source is threatened by the Canyon Mine, has teamed up with several environmental organizations to ask federal judges to intervene before the mine causes any harm.
Meanwhile, members of the Navajo Nation are working to establish a ban on the transport of uranium ore through their reservation and the White Mesa Ute are leading protests against the processing facility.
The Navajo Nation has already been devastated by 523 abandoned uranium mines and 22 wells that have been closed by the EPA due to high levels of radioactive pollution. According to the EPA, “Approximately 30 percent of the Navajo population does not have access to a public drinking water system and may be using unregulated water sources with uranium contamination.” A disproportionate number of the 54,000 Navajo living on the reservation now suffer from organ failure, kidney disease, loss of lung function, and cancer.
The Canyon mine could have a similar impact on the Havasupai Nation and millions of Americans who depend on water from the Colorado River.
IC will be onsite for the next four weeks, investigating the risks and impacts of the Canyon Mine and bringing you exclusive updates from the emerging resistance movement.
We will look at the history of the Energy Fuels processing mill and cover the outcome of the Havasupai lawsuit. We will collect expert testimony, conduct interviews with key players and introduce you to some of the people affected by uranium mining.
We’re launching a crowdfunding campaign later this month to let us complete this vital investigative journalism project.
To build momentum for this fundraising campaign, we need 100 people to join us on Thunderclap and help us send a message that the Grand Canyon has allies!
TUCSON, AZ— President Trump’s border wall threatens 93 endangered and threatened species, including jaguars, ocelots, Mexican gray wolves and cactus ferruginous pygmy owls, according to a new study by the Center for Biological Diversity.
The study also found that 25 threatened or endangered species have designated “critical habitat” on the border, including more than 2 million acres within 50 miles of the border.
“Trump’s border wall is a disaster for people and wildlife alike,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “It could drive magnificent species like the jaguar and ocelot to extinction in the United States.”
The new study identified all threatened, endangered and “candidate” species (those being considered for protection) that have ranges near or crossing the border. These include 57 endangered species, 24 threatened species, 10 species under consideration for protection and two species of concern, golden and bald eagles. Construction of Trump’s 1,200-mile wall — along with related infrastructure and enforcement — will have far-reaching consequences for wildlife, including cutting off migration corridors, reducing genetic diversity, destroying habitat, and adding vehicles, noise and lights to vast stretches of the wild borderlands.
“The border wall won’t be effective at stopping people seeking a better life from getting to this country, but it will destroy habitat and divide wildlife populations,” Greenwald said. “Building a wall across the entirety of the border would cause massive damage to one of the most biologically diverse regions in North America and would be a boondoggle of the highest order.”
The sections of border wall that have already been built have had a range of negative effects on wildlife, including direct destruction of thousands of acres of habitat, indirect impacts from noise and light pollution, and division of cross-border wildlife populations like bighorn sheep and jaguars. The border wall would cut through the Cabeza Prieta, Buenos Aires and several other national wildlife refuges, along with Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Big Bend National Park and many other natural areas that, besides acting as corridors for wildlife, are national treasures.
Last month the Center and Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, sued the Trump administration over the proposed border wall and other border security measures, calling on federal agencies to conduct an in-depth investigation of the proposal’s environmental impacts.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, is the first targeting the Trump administration’s plan to vastly expand and militarize the U.S.-Mexico border, including construction of a “great wall.”
TUCSON, ARIZONA—The Tohono O’odham Nation Executive Branch is firm on their stance against a border wall being built.
“[It’s] not going to happen,” said Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Edward Manual. “It is not feasible to put a wall on the Tohono O’odham Nation…it is going to cost way too much money, way more than they are projecting.”
TON Chairman Manuel went on to say, “It is going to cut off our people, our members that come [from Mexico] and use our services. Not only that we have ceremonies in Mexico that many of our members attend. Members also make pilgrimages to Mexico and a border wall would cut that off as well.”
On January 25, President Donald Trump signed executive actions to begin construction of a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico Border. Seventy-five miles of the U.S.-Mexico border runs through the Tohono O’odham Nation (TON).
On January 26, the TON’s Executive Branch sent out a press release stating that they do not support the building of a border wall and invited President Donald Trump to the Tohono O’odham Nation.
“We have been working with other law enforcement agencies any way we can because we are limited on funding and we are using our monies for border enforcements and helping out Customs and Border Patrol,” said Manuel. “We spend our own monies on them and helping migrants that are sick.”
Furthermore, the TON pays $2,500 per autopsy for bodies found on the reservation. Richard Saunders, TON Executive Director of Public Safety, said they found 85 bodies last year, ranging from recently deceased to completely decomposed.
“We spend about $3 million a year and we never get fully reimbursed on those costs,” Manuel said.
On February 8, the Tohono O’odham Legislative Council (TOLC) passed Resolution 17-053 which states, “…while the Nation coordinates closely with CBP and ICE and has supported the construction of vehicle barriers, the Nation opposes the construction of a wall on its southern boundary with Mexico…”
The resolution went on to list what would be affected from a border wall which included: deny tribal members to cultural sites; injure endangered species such as the jaguar and militarize the land on the TON’s southern boundary.
On February 10, the Inter Tribal Association of Arizona passed Resolution 0117, supporting the TON by opposing the construction of a border wall and “the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 Section 102(c) waivers of federal and other laws on tribal lands.”
Manuel and TON Vice Chairman Verlon Jose took a trip to Washington, D.C. from February 11-16 to attend the National Congress of American Indians Executive Council Winter Session and to meet with individuals.
Jose said they met with a lot of people during their time in D.C. which included Department of Homeland Security, the Congressional delegates from Arizona, the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs and New Mexico State Senator Tom Udall.
Looking west, the U.S.-Mexico Border is visible for miles as well as the access road Border Patrol Agents use to monitor activity. Mexico is on the left side of the fence and the Tohono O’odham reservation is on the right side. By Jacelle Ramon-Sauberan
Jose said the TON gave a formal presentation at NCAI and made another formal invitation to President Trump to come to the Tohono O’odham Nation.
“We are a sovereign nation so they have to come talk to us before they make a decision, that is what we told the Congressional people,” Manuel said. “We want to sit at the table if there is going to be any discussion on a wall along the international boundaries because it is going to impact us directly.”
Jose said they received an overwhelming amount of support in D.C. especially from tribal leaders.
So much so, that NCAI passed Resolution ECWS-17-002, supporting the Tohono O’odham Nation and opposing a border wall.
“The NCAI resolution is a clear statement from our Native American brothers and sisters across the country that they will not see their land seized or their rights trampled by this administration. Trump may have bullied his way into the White House by spreading delusions of a border wall, but if he expects to bully the tribes whose land the wall would cut across, he is gravely mistaken. Native Americans will not give legal consent to any entity determining what happens with their sovereign lands, and will in every way possible oppose the Trump Administration’s plans to build a wall on tribal land,” stated a press release from Arizona Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva and New Mexico Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham.
On February 17, the day after they came back from Washington D.C., Manuel and Jose were part of a border wall panel discussion organized by tribal members. The panel was held in the TOLC Chambers in Sells, Arizona. Almost every seat was filled that Friday evening.
The other panelists included Billman Lopez the Domestic Affairs Chairman for the Tohono O’odham Legislative Council, Lucinda Allen TOLC Vice Chairwoman, Adam Andrews a graduate of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona’s James E. Roger College of Law and James Diamond, Director of Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Tribal Justice Clinic at UA.
Each panelist had five minutes to address Border Safety, Narcotics and Smuggling, Environmental Impacts, Cultural Aspects and Solutions, what is the next step. Afterwards audience members had the chance to ask questions.
On February 20, Shining Soul released a music video for their song “All Day.”
“In light of Trump’s proposed wall, Shining Soul decided to highlight the faces and voices of those who would be negatively impacted by it; Borderland communities such as the Tohono O’odham Nation, Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora,” according to a press release.
On February 21, the TON Executive Branch released a video called “There is No O’odham Word for Wall.” The six-minute video highlights the TON Executive Branch’s opposition against a border wall while offering background information about the TON.
On February 28, the Native American Student Affairs at the University of Arizona held a discussion about the border wall as part of their Social Injustice Series. There were over 50 people who attended the talk.
“A border wall would not work right now because all the right parties are not at the table,” Jose said. “Take a look at other countries that have built walls, have they worked? There is a lot of other things that come with building a wall, we don’t know if they are looking at that and this border has already cut our home in half.”
President-elect Donald Trump says that he will build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. It will stop undocumented immigrants from entering the country. It will stop drugs from entering the country. It will be 50 feet tall. It will be nearly a thousand miles long. And it will cut the traditional lands of the Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona in half.
The Tohono O’odham reservation is one of the largest in the nation, and occupies area that includes 76 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. However, the tribe’s traditional lands extend deep into Mexico, and tribal members live on both sides of the border: With tribal identification, they cross regularly to visit family, receive medical services, and participate in ceremonial or religious services.
The prospect of slicing their homelands in two? Not welcome.
“Over my dead body will a wall be built,” says Verlon Jose, vice chairperson of the Tohono O’odham Nation. “If he decides to build a wall, he’s going to need to come talk to us, unless he wants to see another Standing Rock.”
In other words, to build the wall, Mr. Trump will have to fight for every single mile of Tohono O’odham land—legally, and possibly even physically.
And they’re not the only tribal nation that would be impacted by the wall.
Robert Holden, deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians, points to the Ysleta Del Sur in Texas and tribes in California, such as the Kumeyaay, who have relatives in Mexico. “There’s significant tribal sovereignty at stake here,” Holden says.
Currently, a vehicle barrier on Tohono O’odham land separates Mexico from the United States. It’s stopped cars and trucks from crashing across the border but hasn’t significantly curbed illegal activities in the area.
The nation sits inside what the Department of Homeland Security calls the Tucson Sector—262 miles of border stretching from New Mexico almost entirely across Arizona, and one of the busiest areas for illegal border activity in the U.S. In 2015, more than 60,000 pounds of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin were seized by Tucson Border Patrol. According to officials, that same year, Border Patrol handled more than 2,100 drug cases, and some 680 smuggling cases were prosecuted out of the Tucson Sector.
But despite the statistics, the Tohono O’odham have resisted more intrusive physical barriers within their territory.
“The people of the Tohono O’odham Nation have always been against a wall,” says Jose. In the 1990s, he adds, federal agencies discussed a wall or some other additional security barrier, but the tribe resisted, and the plan was dropped.
In order to deal with criminal activities in the area, the nation has opted to work with the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as Border Patrol. For instance, the Shadow Wolves—a Tohono O’odham tactical patrol unit—have worked with DHS since the early 2000s and are responsible for seizing thousands of pounds of illegal drugs and for hundreds of arrests on the reservation. And tribal law enforcement has worked closely with federal authorities as well as tribal communities to maintain a semblance of safety and order.
This doesn’t mean things are peachy down on the Tohono O’odham reservation, though: Tribal members say they are routinely harassed by Border Patrol; cultural and religious items are frequently confiscated; and detentions and deportations of tribal citizens are not uncommon. In 2014, two tribal members were hospitalized after being shot by a Border Patrol agent. The situation has often been compared to a Berlin Wall-like scenario, but the tribe has fought for and maintained the ability to enjoy its traditional homelands—at least more than if a wall were running through the middle of it.
“Let me come into your home and build a wall directly in the middle of your house and tell me what impacts that would have on you?” says Jose. “This land is our grocery store; this land is our medical facility, where we get our medicinal remedies from; this land is our college and university. Our sacred sites are in Mexico; our ceremonies are in what is now Mexico. The border is an imaginary line to us.”
Border Patrol officials declined to comment on the proposed wall or how the agency has worked with the Tohono O’odham in the past.
“Beyond the practical difficulties of building and maintaining such a wall, it really would undermine a lot of cooperative agreements that law enforcement rely on to police that border,” says Melissa Tatum, a law professor at the University of Arizona. “If they’re not cooperating with the Tohono O’odham that help to secure the border, it creates incentives to have more resistance.”
In the short term, when it comes to securing the border, there are no easy answers or solutions. But when it comes to working with tribal nations on the issue, in the eyes of the Tohono O’odham, Trump’s proposed wall represents either gross ignorance or blatant disregard for tribal sovereignty. And if construction begins, it could signal the winding back of clocks on U.S.-tribal relations on the border.
“I can’t even imagine how far it would set us back,” says Tatum. “More than a hundred years.”
Tristan Ahtone wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Tristan is a journalist and member of the Kiowa tribe of Oklahoma. His work has appeared on and in PBS NewsHour, National Native News, Frontline, Wyoming Public Radio, Vice, Fronteras Desk, NPR, and Al Jazeera America.