We previously wrote on this subject on February 10, 2020.
The New York Times on February 27, 2020 reports the desecration of tribal lands by the Trump administration’s scramble to build a wall at America’s border with Mexico. The article written by Simon Romero reports the destruction of protected saguaro cactuses which can live for 200 years. Ordinarily, cut down a saguaro and you can face years in prison.
The remains of chopped-up saguaros are now visible along a swath of the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona, part of what Native American leaders warn is a range of environmental and archaeological threats posed by the Trump administration’s scramble to build the wall.
Working along the border, according to tribal leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation who live on both sides of the border, is blasting ancient burial sites and siphoning an aquifer that feeds a desert oasis where human beings have slaked their thirst for 16,000 years.
The outcry by tribal citizens reflects the latest phase in the quarreling over the border wall, after federal courts allowed the Trump administration to speed construction by waiving dozens of laws, including measures protecting endangered species and Native American burial sites. Federal officials have cited President Trump’s national emergency declaration in 2019, aimed at curbing unauthorized immigration, as justification for the waivers.
Dynamite blasts are now echoing throughout lands assigned the highest degree of permanent protection by Congress as workers lay the foundation for the wall. To mix concrete, crews are drawing water from a spring near where ancient bone fragments were unearthed last year.
The work is occurring at sites inside the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt established by proclamation in 1937. The area has been designated by UNESCO, the United States cultural organization, as an internationally protected biosphere reserve.
“To state it clearly, we are enduring crimes against humanity,” said Verlon M. Jose, the governor of the Tohono O’odham in northern Mexico and a former vice chairman of the tribal nation on the American side of the border.
After grievances by O’odham citizens intensified in recent months, Representative Raul M. Grijalva, a Democrat representing southern Arizona, homed in on the use of explosives at an area of the monument that many O’odham consider a sacred Indigenous site.
Citing O’odham leaders, Mr. Grijalva said in a video posted on Twitter that the site, known as Memorial Hill, “is the resting place primarily for Apache warriors that had been involved in battle with the O’odham, and then the O’odham people in a respectful way laid them to rest on Monument Hill.”
Objections to the border wall are now multiplying from the some 28,000 enrolled members of Tohono O’odham (pronounced To-HO-no AW-tham). Many live in the tribal nation’s reservation in Arizona, which is near Organ Pipe, while about 2,000 others live in an adjacent area of northern Mexico.
Before the Americans conquest of Arizona in the 1840s, the O’odham homeland encompassed Organ Pipe as well as much of southern Arizona. The border sliced through these lands first as a result of the Mexican-American War, and then the Gadsden Purchase of 1854.
Now the stretch of border where work crews are blasting rock and building the wall is creating a gash through the middle of this revered stretch of desert. On a recent day in February, it was possible to see the uprooted remains of an organ pipe cactus, the protected and rare species that resembles a pipe organ.
To advance the border wall project, the Trump administration has used a little-known section of the Real ID Act that allows the Department of Homeland Security to waive compliance with federal law to expedite construction of barriers along the border.
Among the laws being waived is the Endangered Species Act. Laiken Jordahl, a former National Park Service employee who surveyed the wildlife of Organ Pipe, said the at-risk animals in the park include the lesser long-nosed bat and the Sonoran pronghorn, one of the most critically endangered wildlife species in the United States.
“This project will change the evolutionary history of this landscape, impacting species migrations, seed dispersal, the flow of water,” said Mr. Jordahl, who now works for the Center for Biological Diversity, an organization focused on saving imperiled species. “It’s painfully obvious that we’re destroying what this place was established to protect,” he said.
An Internal National Park Service report found construction of Trump’s wall could destroy up to 22 archaeological sites.
The wall costs $19 million per mile. Yet, can be easily breached.