President Trump ignores tribes in executive order on US-Mexico border wall

A view of the Tohono O'odham Nation. Photo: biotour13

Republican President Donald Trump is calling for the "immediate" construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border but once again neglected Indian Country in his latest directives.

An executive order signed on Wednesday treats states as partners when it comes to border security and immigration enforcement. But tribes whose territories and citizens are directly impacted by a wall weren't mentioned at all.

For that reason, tribes in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas are likely to oppose construction. Leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation have already warned Trump about trying to build a fence on their homelands without their consent.

"Over my dead body will a wall be built," Vice Chairman Verlon Jose told YES! Magazine after the November election. The tribe's reservation in southern Arizona runs 75 miles along the southern border and the tribe's citizens frequently travel back and forth for ceremonies, to visit relatives and for other regular activities.

The Cocopah Tribe, also in Arizona, saw their lands divided in half by the border in 1848. The tribes of the Kumeyaay Nation in southern California similarly share territories that span the border.

For the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, also known as the Tigua Tribe, a wall would further impact sacred sites along a river spanning the border. The tribe's governing structure depends on regular access to those sites on and near the Rio Grande.

"There’s significant tribal sovereignty at stake here," Robert Holden, the deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians, the largest inter-tribal organization in the U.S., told YES! Magazine.

Indian Country has already been excluded from prior border security efforts. During the administration of Republican president George W. Bush, Congress exempted fence construction from the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, laws that otherwise require federal agencies to consult tribes about their ancestors, burial grounds, important artifacts and sacred sites.

In a second executive order on public safety and immigration, Trump also left out tribal governments even though many have sought more resources to combat human trafficking and drug trafficking tied to the U.S-Mexico border. The president's own nominee to lead the Justice Department has acknowledged that non-Indians contribute to extremely high rates of violence in Indian Country.

The new directives follow two memos that Trump signed on Tuesday regarding infrastructure projects opposed throughout Indian Country. In both instances, Trump failed to include tribes in any consultation and review processes.

“To continue to militarize our border is to squander billions of taxpayer dollars on a scheme that is impossible from geographical and economic perspectives. It will achieve nothing more than the continued criminalization of immigrants and asylum seekers through mandatory detention," Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona), the top Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources Committee, said in a press release. "At the same time, the wall is a literal barrier to the cross-border commerce that is so vital to border communities like mine in southern Arizona. Not only does it hamper local economies, but it also upends the migratory patterns of over 100 endangered species, and raises sovereignty concerns in tribal lands across the southern border."

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