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Rage One (blog)

lunes, junio 23, 2008

Tohono O'odham chair calls for border meeting

O'odham chair calls for border meeting
Says Chertoff shows Nation 'total disrespect'
By Brady McCombs
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 06.22.2008

— Tohono O'odham Chairman Ned Norris Jr. has grown incensed with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff — who has rebuffed requests to meet and invoked a waiver to build border barriers on current and ancestral O'odham land.
With the Tohono O'odham Nation spanning 75 miles of U.S.-Mexican border in the busiest stretch for illegal immigration, drug smuggling and border deaths, Norris says Chertoff owes him a meeting.

Chertoff has declined to meet him in person despite five formal requests, Norris said. And, on a recent trip to Southwestern Arizona, Chertoff visited Sasabe and Lukeville, but skipped the reservation, which sits in the middle of the two border towns, Norris said.

"It's a total disrespect for the sovereign authority that this Nation has and enjoys with the United States government," said Norris, who completed his first year in office on June 11.

Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner said it's true the two haven't met, but that the notion that Chertoff has ignored the tribe is false. Chertoff personally met with Norris' predecessor, Vivian Juan-Saunders, she said.
During Chertoff's brief February visit to Southwestern Arizona, his intention was to meet with the family of fallen Border Patrol agent Luis Aguilar, who was killed in January near Yuma, and to see how the SBInet Project 28 virtual fence was working, she said.

Homeland Security officials meet regularly — monthly, if not weekly — with Tohono O'odham leadership, and Norris was invited but declined to meet with recently appointed Deputy Secretary Paul Schneider, she said.
"We have a good working relationship with them," Keehner said.

Norris said he would appreciate recognition for his tribe's cooperation in allowing the construction of two law enforcement centers, 34 miles of vehicle barriers and the placement of two of the nine Project 28 camera towers on the reservation.
He would also like to set parameters.

"We want Chertoff here to see how cooperative the Tohono O'odham Nation is and to hear from us directly what we are telling his subordinates," Norris said. "I want to be able to tell him myself that the Tohono O'odham Nation, will never — will never — agree to a walled fence."

Then there's Chertoff's use of a waiver — first on the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation area in Cochise County, which includes O'odham ancestral lands, and later to lay claim to at least 220 of the 350 miles of border in Arizona, including at least 50 miles on the Nation.

That waiver allowed Homeland Security to move forward with fencing projects without having to comply with environmental regulations.

In the latter case in April, Norris said he and other O'odham officials learned of the waiver from media reports and didn't receive a letter from Homeland Security until later.

"The secretary's ability to waive all federal environmental, biological and archaeological laws basically allows him to, in my opinion, desecrate the O'odham land," Norris said.

Norris has a theory on Chertoff's rebuffs: "He doesn't want to acknowledge the fact that he's got another sovereign government that he is obligated to deal with. So, his best thought is just to ignore it."

Keehner, however, said Homeland Security officials respect the sovereignty of the Nation and are cognizant of the importance of working with O'odham officials, especially on fencing issues.

Norris shared his opinions on a range of border-related issues in a recent interview at his office in Sells:
On the illegal immigrant traffic across the reservation:

The estimated number of illegal immigrants coming across the reservation has decreased to about 700 a day from a peak of 1,500 a day, but not without consequence to him and other tribal members, he said.

"We are a militarized zone now with the increased presence of the Border Patrol on the Nation's lands," he said.
On the tense relationship between Border Patrol agents and tribal members:

Despite a good relationship with leaders in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector and with some agents, Norris said, "Unfortunately, there are some bad apples in the basket, and we have some pretty aggressive border agents."

He fields complaints from tribal members regularly about violations of civil and human rights by Border Patrol agents, he said. Norris had his own run-in with an agent when he was stopped near Three Points on Arizona 86 while driving home from Sells.

The agent turned on his lights, pulled him over and approached Norris' vehicle with his hand on his weapon, Norris said. After he was questioned and told he could go, Norris asked why he had been stopped. The agent told him it was because of the kind of car he was driving, he said.

"That's the unfortunate approach that too many of the agents take: Everybody is suspect; you are guilty until you prove yourself (innocent). And, that's wrong."

Norris and vice-chairman Isidro Lopez have begun to regularly speak to new agents out of the Casa Grande station to improve the relationship. Norris is also considering sponsoring a hearing and inviting legislators and others to hear from tribal members about the impact the Border Patrol's presence has had on them, he said.

"I've said this to them: Don't treat us like we're suspects. We're not the enemy. Treat us with respect. Treat our land with respect. Understand who we are as people."

On the Nation's standing decision not to allow humanitarian groups to place water on the reservation:

The decision falls to leaders of the 11 districts on the Nation because it's a matter of local concern, he said. He would support a district if it decided to allow a group to place water, but he also supports district leaders' decision to disallow it.
"Part of the concern in placing the water out is that it encourages the migrants to come through because they know there is going to be water out in the desert. I don't know that we can factually say that. … I think we need to really sit back and really assess what the factual impacts could be, would be, in making that decision."

On his staunch opposition to a border fence:

Over his "dead body" is the only way Homeland Security will be allowed to build a pedestrian fence on the reservation, he said.
The Nation has not agreed to any such plans and has not been notified that any is planned but 15-foot-high fences have been built east, at Sasabe, and west, at Lukeville, just beyond the Nation.

"I'm cautious that behind closed doors there's already plans to include the Nation with the walled fence," Norris said.
He said he would take whatever steps are necessary, whether it's going to Congress, the courts, or the next U.S. president, to block construction of a pedestrian fence.

"I would use whatever authority, rights we have out there to use."

On why he opposes pedestrian fences but allows vehicle barriers and virtual fence towers:

"We have a vested interest in what goes on in Mexico. We have 1,500 enrolled tribal members there. We have members of our Nation that traverse back and forth regularly, some on a daily basis. Our members in Mexico are entitled to services our Nation has to offer. … We've got too much activity in Mexico. We didn't ask for this fence. We didn't ask for the border. We weren't asked for what our opinion was when the border was put there."

On the Tohono O'odham Nation's taking its role seriously in securing the borders:

"We continue to do what we believe is necessary on our end to ensure the safety of the United States of America. The Tohono O'odham Nation is just as concerned about the security of the United States as any other American citizen is."

● Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or

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