Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Indigenous Protest

Native American locked-down protesters

of Border Patrol call for action

By Brenda Norrell June 28, 2011

TUCSON – Tohono O’odham and Navajo activists who locked down in protest at the US Border Patrol Headquarters in Tucson return to federal court on Wednesday, June 29. They are calling for a day of action to end abuse by Border Patrol agents and an end to the spreading militarization of Indigenous lands along the border.

Alex Soto, Tohono O’odham and one of the protesters, referring to the trespassing charge that was dropped said, “How can I, a Tohono O'odham person, be trespassing on my own land?”

The call to action on Wednesday comes after the exposure that 127 Border Patrol agents have been charged with corruption since 2004, and 267 more are under investigation, according to testimony before a Senate committee on June 9.

Still, human rights activists here, on the Arizona border, point out that federal authorities ignore the ongoing human rights abuses by Border Patrol agents toward people, ranging from beatings to rape and murder in the Sonoran Desert.

In an effort to reveal the human rights crisis at the border, six protesters, including Tohono O’odham and Navajo, locked-down and occupied the US Border Patrol Headquarters, on May 21, 2010. On Wednesday at 2 pm, they will return to federal court to fight the charge of disorderly conduct with serious disruptive behavior.

Last February, the six also stood trial for a charge of criminal trespassing. However, their defense team discovered that the trespassing charge was incorrectly filed by the State. A motion to dismiss the charge of criminal trespassing was granted by the court.

In February, as protesters appeared in federal court, more than 40 protesters took to the streets, with banners reading, “Indigenous Resistance, Protect Sacred Places,” and “Free Movement for People Not Commerce, Tear Down the Wall.” They chanted, “No Borders, No Border Patrol.” Two protesters were arrested. O’odham elders attended the court proceedings to demonstrate their support.

A banner reading, “Border Patrol out of O’odham land,” was also suspended from the “Snake Bridge” that morning before court. At one point, supporters rallied in front of the streamline courtroom, another manifestation of the systematic abuse of migrants in federal courts.

“Operation Streamline, started in 2005 is a ‘zero tolerance’ rapid court process that prosecutes hundreds of migrants a day, sometimes in shackles. Constitutional rights are also not granted and what would take multiple hearings is often a less than a two-day process of arrest and deportation,” the protesters said.

Alex Soto, Tohono O’odham, and one of the arrestees said, "It was good to see all the support last February for our initial trial proceeding. We need to continue to build, and remember this action was a prayer, and the dismissal of trespassing reaffirms that the Border Patrol troops are the real trespassers, not us.

“Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Border Patrol, Immigration Custom Enforcement and their corporate backers such as Wackenhut, are the true criminals. Troops and paramilitary law enforcement, detention camps, check points, and citizenship verification are not a solution to ‘issues’ of migration.

“Indigenous Peoples have existed here long before these imposed borders, and Elders inform us that we always honored freedom of movement. Why are Indigenous communities and the daily deaths at the border ignored? The impacts of border militarization are constantly being made invisible in and by the media, and the popular culture of this country. Even the mainstream immigrant rights movement has often pushed for ‘reform’ which means further militarization of the border, leading to increased suffering for Indigenous communities. Border militarization destroys Indigenous communities." Soto said.

Kevin Jose, Akimel O'odham/Tohono O’odham, and member of O’odham Solidarity Across Borders, pointed out the militarization of the border.

"During the time of this action, my thoughts ran so deep as to what else we could do and what we can make happen. Singing for them at this action was powerful and their hearts were stronger than ever.

"What the state does on the control of free movement along our traditional lands is like a chokehold to our throats. The push to militarize the border does not just affect the Tohono O’odham who live in the border region, it affects all O’odham. In Tohono, it comes in the form of a border wall, in the Gila River Indian Community; it comes in form of a freeway."

Currently the state of Arizona is pushing for the construction of the South Mountain Loop 202 freeway extension on Akimel O’odham land (Phoenix Area). The Loop 202 is part of the CANAMEX transportation corridor, which is part of the larger NAFTA highway project. The two proposed routes will either result in a loss of approximately 600 acres of tribal land, and the forced relocation of Akimel O'odham and Pee-Posh families or would gouge a 40-story high, 200-yard wide cut into Muadag Do'ag (O'odham name for South Mountain), which is sacred to all O'odham and Pee-Posh.

“Neo-liberal projects such as CANAMEX and NAFTA are attacking O’odham communities. All these attacks are connected. Support our nawoj (friends) on June 29th for their trial,” Jose said.

No More Deaths, a migrant support group, said that between October 2009 and April 2011, there were more than 338 deaths on the Arizona border alone. There have been 1,200 National Guard troops stationed along the southwestern border since June 2010. Additionally, the state of Arizona recently passed a bill which will allow for Arizona to build its own border wall. The law goes into effect July 20 of this year.

While Native Americans protest the abuse of Border Patrol, the mainstream media fails to expose the abuse and corruption.

On June 9, Alan Bersin, commissioner of Customs and Border Patrol, testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Bersin said, “Since 2004 in October, 127 CBP personnel have been arrested, charged or convicted of corruption.”

Charles Edwards, the acting Inspector General for the Dept. of Homeland Security, testified before the committee that there are 267 active corruption-related investigations underway of Customs and Border Patrol personnel.

As the six protesters prepared to return to federal court, they demanded actions to end border militarization and the criminalization of their Indigenous communities.

They demanded the immediately withdrawal of National Guard Troops from the US/Mexico border and the halt to development of the border wall. Further, they pressed for the immediate removal of drones and checkpoints, the decommissioning of all detention camps and the release of all presently held undocumented migrants.

Indigenous Peoples rights of self-determination must be honored, they said. Further, they pressed for implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, respect for Indigenous Peoples inherent right of migration and an end to NAFTA, FTAA and other trade agreements

Protesters called for the immediate end to the CANAMEX/NAFTA highway projects, including the South Mountain Freeway. They urged immediate repeal of SB1070 and 287g, and an end to all racial profiling.

Protesters demanded a halt to Border Patrol sweeps on sovereign Native land, an end to raids and deportations and an immediate and unconditional regularization (“legalization”) of all people. Pressing for the US to uphold human freedom and rights, they called for repeal of HB 2281. Further, they urged support for dignity and respect and support to ensure freedom of movement for all people.

As the xenophobic media coverage continues of the border, the private prison industry continues to profit from incarcerating migrants.

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