Harsh Anti-Immigrant Climate Destroys Native Communities

MJ Olahafa • Aug 13, 2010

We’ve all heard about SB1070 and the hardships it has brought on the Latino population in Arizona. Little is known however about the effects of this bill on other communities of color, especially the indigenous tribes of Arizona.

They are the descendants of people that occupied the region since before recorded history, before the volcanoes, before civilization as we know it.

Before any European immigrant, the Tohono O’odham tribes were living in the place now called Arizona. A fairly large chunk of tribal ground crosses south of the border into today’s Mexico. And that’s the crime they are now being punished for.

They didn’t ask for borders. Yet one was imposed upon them in 1853 when the United States decided that its border had to cut through O’odham tribal land. They certainly didn’t ask for a fence, but one was built on their land when, deep in its post 9/11 hallucination and seeing a terrorist in every immigrant, the Department of Homeland Security built a 640 mile fence on the southern border of the country. A 65 mile section of that fence runs through Tohono O’odham territory.

It is akin waking up one morning to find an iron wall has been driven through your house, splitting it in two. Your kitchen and your bathroom are on either side of the wall. You still have your bedroom to sleep in, but now you have to ask permission to go into the dining room. That’s what the Tohono O’odham tribe has been dealing with since the construction of the fence along the US/Mexico border.

Families have been ripped apart, villages isolated. Even though there are two main roads crossing the border, life has been anything but easy for the Tohono O’odham residents on both sides of the treacherous fence. Ever since the passing of the Homeland Security Act in 2002, and the Secure Fence Act in 2006, more of the undocumented border crossing has been forced through O’odham land. This, of course, has been a trap organized by the government, which has used that as an excuse to deploy more and more Border Patrol agents to tribal land. Multiple complaints have been filed against these Border Patrol agents who have been making life hell for the natives.

Abuses are rampant, and the human rights of residents are being trampled upon even more so than they already were. SB1070 certainly didn’t help. They are constantly being asked whether they are Americans or Mexicans, even though they are natives of the land. The slogan “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us” takes on a very literal meaning with the Tohono O’odham residents.

They are constantly being asked to produce identification, even though they are natives of the land. And their Tribal ID doesn’t seem to do the trick anymore.

The government is now pushing for residents to produce passports as proof of ID, knowing very well that most of the older residents were born at home and therefore don’t have the proper documentation [birth certificate, social security…] to obtain a passport.

This will be the final straw, the definite rift in their already torn homelands and families.

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