Tohono O'odham Reservation is a good place to sneak into the USA from Mexico

  If your planning on sneaking across the border from Mexico into Arizona this sounds like a good place to do it. It's the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation which is the size of the state of Connecticut. Back in the old days we used to call it the Papago Indian Reservation. Papago is the name the Americans and Spanish people who stole their land and enslaved them called them. Tohono O'odham is the name they called themselfs before they had their land stolen and were enslaved by White people.


Illegal immigration's toll pushes Tohono tribe to plead for money

Susan Carroll
Republic Tucson Bureau
Aug. 18, 2006 12:00 AM

EAST OF SELLS - From a remote mountaintop overlooking the vast Tohono O'odham Reservation, the smugglers have created their own sacred spot, a shrine to the Virgin de Guadalupe covered in prayer cards and candles.

Slowly over the years, the Tohono O'odham Nation has tried to take its land back from people-smugglers and drug runners, tribal leaders say, giving the U.S. Border Patrol unprecedented access to their reservation in hopes of stemming the tide of illegal activity.

But tribal leaders are crying out for more help from the Department of Homeland Security, saying they are incurring $3 million annually in costs associated with the federal government's failure to secure their 75-mile stretch of U.S.-Mexican border. The tribe is seeking compensation for costs ranging from migrant autopsies to police overtime. "We're caught in the middle of this whole problem," Tribal Chairwoman Vivian Juan-Saunders said. "It creates a really high stress level for our people."

Juan-Saunders said the problem stems directly from a piece of legislation, the Homeland Security Act of 2002, that did not recognize Indian nations as sovereign governments.

So the 25 tribes along the nation's northern and southern borders have to go through states for security funding, adding a layer of bureaucracy and leading to consternation by tribal members. They have complained that they are often left out of federal decision-making.

Within the past month, she said, tribal leaders have met with top Department of Homeland Security officials, including Secretary Michael Chertoff.

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said he wants to help the Tohono O'odhams, but the window to get a bill passed this session is closing.

Grijalva said he hopes to create a buzz about changing the legislation this session and then push for a bill next time around.

"They're supplementing this enforcement activity, and they deserve to have a direct pipeline," Grijalva said. "I think their request is more than justified; I think it's overdue."

But despite all the visits and lobbying and talk of legislation, "it doesn't seem to go anywhere," Juan-Saunders said.

In the meantime, the Tohono O'odhams say they are having trouble controlling the illegal crossings through their land, which has been crisscrossed with at least 160 smuggling trails.

Agents have made more than 187,000 arrests since Oct. 1 in the "west desert," a 160-mile stretch from Sasabe to the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge that includes the Tohono O'odham Reservation.

Because the tribe's land is so vast and remote, roughly 2.8 million acres, comparable to the size of Connecticut, the smugglers still operate in some areas with impunity. They built their shrine, leaving piles of pesos in the wooden box that holds the figurine. Nearby, smugglers have discarded empty canvas bags used to carry marijuana over the tribe's sacred mountains.

The Tohono O'odham Police Department, with 65 sworn officers, spends 60 percent of its time on illegal immigration. Border Patrol agents scour the tribe's land, and the tribe recently approved allowing the National Guard onto the reservation.

But the tide of undocumented immigrants, although diminished from the peak of 1,500 crossings a day a few years ago, is still taxing.

The nation has tons of trash dumped on its land by undocumented immigrants, even on sacred sites, Juan-Saunders said. It has paid for the autopsies of at least 51 migrants, including three children, since January, at a cost of $1,200 to $1,400 each, she said.

"These resources should be spent on education and health care and infrastructure and economic development," she said.

"But we have no other choice than to do what we can to protect our people."

Since 2001, the tribe has received about $900,000 in security grant money distributed by the state to purchase equipment to deal with emergencies, Juan-Saunders said.

Julie Mason, a state Homeland Security spokeswoman, said Arizona is one of the only states to have a position dedicated to working with the tribes on security issues.

All five Homeland Security regional advisory councils, which decide how federal grant allocation decisions are made, include tribal members, she added.

In 2003, nearby Santa Cruz County received close to $1.5 million of Arizona's $61 million in Homeland Security grants.

Last August, the tribe received $200,000 after Gov. Janet Napolitano declared a state of emergency along the border because of the rampant people and drug smuggling on tribal land and in Arizona's four border counties.

Mason added that Napolitano has advocated direct funding for the tribes on the border.