Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

September 8, 2023

Mediocre Border Wall Report Minimizes U.S. Government Violence and Destruction

An image you will not see in the U.S. government's new border wall construction report: Wildlife halted during migrations by the border wall. Congressman Grijalva calls the border wall a racist stunt and  "symbolic message of  hate." (Image: Skye Islands video/screenshot Censored News)

Mediocre Border Wall Report Minimizes U.S. Government Violence and Destruction

By Brenda Norrell, Censored News, September 8, 2023

A new U.S. report on the border wall construction minimizes the violence and destruction by the U.S. government. The U.S. blew up Tohono O'odham and Apache burial places with dynamite, killed saguaro cacti, destroyed migration paths of endangered species, violated precious water, destroyed sacred sites, and scraped the fragile Sonoran Desert and border ecosystems.

The border report attempts to excuse the United States' failed consultation with Tohono O'odham and Pascua Yaqui Nations, attempts to excuse the waiver and violation of all federal laws, and does not include the U.S. government's own agents' involvement with illegal drug and weapons running across the border.

The 72-page report, released on Thursday, by the Government Accountability Office assessed the destruction caused by building the border wall, from 2017 -- 2021. Although it is defined as an independent government office -- in reality, it is the government reporting on itself. Another fox in the henhouse.

The report states an emergency national security action was used to redirect U.S. military funding to build the border wall -- but it fails to point out that large numbers of U.S. Border Patrol and ICE agents have been arrested for drug running and spotting for the cartels. The report does not include the U.S. government's covert operations known as "gun-walking" across the border which supplies automatic weapons to the cartels in failed attempts to track automatic weapons to the cartels.

U.S. Government Violence at Monument Hill

Tohono O'odham Chairman Ned Norris Jr. spoke to a Congressional committee in February 2020 and described the pain of the U.S. government violence at Monument Hill.

"It's hard to see the blasting you showed on the video today because I know in my heart and what our elders have told us and what we have learned that that area was home to our ancestors," said Norris, choking up. "Blasting and doing what we saw today has totally disturbed, totally forever damaged our people."

The border report states:

According to Tohono O’odham Nation officials, a culturally important site in Arizona was irreparably damaged when contractors used explosives to clear the way for expanding an existing patrol road. The blasting damaged portions of Monument Hill, a site that the Hia-C’ed O’odham, ancestors of the Tohono O’odham, and other Tribes historically used for religious ceremonies and that remains important to several Indigenous communities. According to Tohono O’odham Nation officials, Monument Hill was the site of intertribal battles and contains the remains of Apache and O’odham ancestors who fought in those battles.

When Tohono O'odham leaders urged alternatives to dynamiting Monument Hill, such as increased lighting, the U.S. refused. The border report says:

CBP officials said they could not accommodate that suggestion and still meet their operational needs. Ultimately, tribal officials found that the explosives that the contractors used to clear the construction area to install the larger barrier system irreparably damaged a site that is culturally significant for several Indigenous communities.

Desecration of Sacred Springs and O'odham Burial Places

The border report describes the violations:

Barrier construction also disrupted a different cultural site important to the Tohono O’odham Nation and other Indigenous communities, according to Tohono O’odham Nation officials. Located about 200 yards from the border, Quitobaquito Springs is a large oasis in the Sonoran Desert and is a sacred site for the O’odham people. Since O’odham ancestors inhabited the area for thousands of years, it is home to several O’odham burial sites. According to Tohono O’odham Nation officials, contractors cleared a large area near the springs, destroying a burial site that the Tribe had sought to protect.

The Killing of the Saguaros

The border report states:

According to Tohono O’odham Nation officials, barrier construction activities destroyed many saguaro cacti in Arizona, which are sacred to the Tohono O’odham people and found only in the Sonoran Desert. The Tohono O’odham Nation officials explained that the saguaro is significant to O’odham culture and livelihood, as the saguaro provides an important fruit source and is a sacred plant to be given utmost respect, as a relative.

Many saguaro cacti also died after contractors transplanted them from project locations to nonproject areas to protect them from construction activities, according to a National Park Service official (see fig. 9). The official also said that after contracts were canceled in 2021, watering and caretaking activities to encourage transplant survival ceased. As a result, the official estimated that as many as half of the transplanted cacti did not survive in some locations.

Grijalva: Border wall was a racist stunt and symbol of hate

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who requested the report, called the border wall "a symbolic message of hate, aimed at vilifying migrants" and he said it was "a racist, ineffective political stunt wasting billions of American taxpayers' dollars."

Grijalva said that according to the report, Trump’s border wall and border wall construction have:

-- destroyed Indigenous sacred sites and burial grounds, like Monument Hill;
--zapped preciously scarce Western water resources in some areas and caused damming and flooding in others;
--permanently altered wildlife migration patterns and put endangered species, like the ocelot, at even greater risk of extinction;
--decimated native plants, including untold numbers of the iconic saguaro cacti, while also recklessly spreading invasive species; and
--caused dangerously severe erosion.

Grijalva said, “From the start, President Trump’s border wall was nothing more than a symbolic message of hate, aimed at vilifying migrants and bolstering extreme MAGA rhetoric. This racist political stunt has been an ineffective waste of billions of American taxpayers’ dollars — and now we know it has caused immeasurable, irreparable harm to our environment and cultural heritage as well."

Border Wall blocks movement of protected and endangered species

The report provides only a few details on the impact of the border wall on wildlife, and does not even mention the rare jaguar on the Arizona border.

The border report states:

Tribal and agency officials and all five stakeholders told us that installation of pedestrian barrier has affected wildlife by impeding their movement across the landscape, including in habitat for threatened and endangered species. Although some pedestrian barrier was designed to have small openings at the base to accommodate passage for small animals, bigger animals — such as the Sonoran pronghorn and wolves — are too large to pass through these openings. (See fig. 8.)

Texas Ocelots

Installing the full border barrier system in parts of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas has fragmented the endangered ocelot’s habitat, according to a joint FWS and CBP documented agreement. The barrier system has also severed the animal’s travel corridors across the border. These cumulative impacts have substantially elevated the risks of the ocelot’s extinction in the U.S., according to the agreement.

The Texas Turtles

CBP and USACE efforts to obtain and incorporate input also yielded benefits to cultural and natural resources, according to National Park Service and FWS officials and tribal officials. For example, according to an Interior official, after obtaining input from FWS officials on a project along the Rio Grande River in Texas, CBP incorporated low-angle ramps to help tortoises and other animals escape from being trapped by floodwaters that can build up at the base of border barrier that is built on top of a concrete floodwall.

The border report fails to reveal the full impact on endangered species in this fragile borderzone. The Center for Biological Diversity said in 2017, "President Trump's border wall threatens 93 endangered and threatened species, including jaguars, ocelots, Mexican gray wolves and cactus ferruginous pygmy owls, according to a new study by the Center for Biological Diversity." Image: rare jaguar on Arizona border (not shown in border report.)

Border Patrol blocks natural water flow

The border report states, "The contractor built the patrol road several feet above the desert floor in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, in some places by as much as 8 feet. As a result, the raised road acts as a natural dam by impeding water flow during rain events."

Ridiculous pieces of border wall cause serious erosion in southern Arizona


The failed consultation with Tohono O'odham and Pascua Yaqui Nations, which is required by law: The U.S. assigned low-level officials to consult with tribes, who carried out minimal consultation, refused to make significant changes and contacted tribes after projects were already prioritized and underway.

The border report states:

CBP officials explained that they have been meeting regularly with Tohono O’odham Nation and Pascua Yaqui Tribe staff. They also said that they are working to address as many of the impacts from the barrier as possible as part of CBP’s site restoration work. CBP officials said that they are also working with Tribes in California as part of site restoration efforts. However, they noted that some of the actions needed to address impacts to cultural sites will be covered under mitigation actions.

Tohono O’odham Nation officials also noted that waiting to consult until after the agencies have prioritized and selected specific mitigation actions does not provide Tribes with the opportunity to provide their perspectives on the relative importance of the mitigation actions under consideration

In addition, the Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation said that the agencies did not conduct formal consultation with the Tribe before undertaking barrier projects. For example, the Chairman said that although CBP solicited the Tribe’s input on certain aspects of proposed projects that affected important cultural sites, the interactions were not with sufficiently senior staff with decision-making authority. The Chairman noted that conducting formal consultation, even when agencies waive laws and policies, is necessary for respecting the government-to government relationship between the U.S. and the Tribe.

As discussed later in this report, tribal officials have voiced concerns about the lack of consultation throughout the border barrier construction process and in addressing cultural and natural resource impacts. Interior’s tribal consultation procedures direct the component agencies to invite Tribes early in the planning process to consult whenever a plan or action with tribal implications arises, but they do not specify when consultation should occur.

DHS’s tribal consultation instruction states that the degree and extent of consultation depends on the identified potential tribal implication and does not provide specific guidelines for every potential scenario.

O'odham burial place protected at Cabeza

The border report says one O'odham burial place was protected:

In another example, the Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman told us that a senior USACE official met with the Tribe to identify ways to minimize impacts to a burial site located in Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona. According to USACE officials, USACE modified the barrier’s foundation and covered the site during construction to minimize impacts to the site and to address the Tribe’s concerns.

Federal Laws Waived, Violated and Manipulated

The report said the U.S. military used emergency legal measures to fund the border wall to stop drug trafficking -- but does not include the fact that U.S. Border Patrol and ICE agents have repeatedly been arrested for drug running and spotting for the cartels to bring their loads across.

The report states:

DHS and DOD are authorized to waive or disregard all laws, including natural and cultural resource-related laws, to facilitate border barrier construction in certain circumstances. Section 102(c) of IIRIRA, as amended, provides this legal authority to the Secretary of Homeland Security.

The Secretary of Defense has this authority under 10 U.S.C. § 2808(d) for certain construction activities authorized under a National Emergency Declaration or declaration of war.

In this report, we use the term “waive” to refer to actions taken under DHS’s and DOD’s respective authorities.

Potential mitigation to help restore the border region

Potential mitigation actions the Interior identified included efforts for
• Preserving several archaeological sites in Arizona, including in the Quitobaquito Springs area, directly affected by border barrier and road construction; 

• Recharging groundwater levels where contractors extracted water during border barrier construction near the San Pedro River in Arizona; and 

• Monitoring endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep in California that rely on habitat across the border.

Border report: Native American Nations in Border Region

The report states:

We interviewed tribal officials regarding their perspectives and information relevant to each of our objectives. Specifically, we interviewed officials from the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians because they have tribal land located on or near the southwest border.

We identified these Tribes to include in our review by reviewing tribal land along the border and agency assessment documents that mentioned affected Tribes. We also interviewed five stakeholders, including representatives from four nongovernmental organizations and one individual with expertise and experience in cultural and natural resource protection along the southwest border.

The four nongovernmental organizations include the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club-Grand Canyon Chapter, Sky Island Alliance, and Wildlands Network. We identified stakeholders based on our review of related documents and through our interviews with an initial set of stakeholders.

Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona is a federally recognized Tribe. Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians is part of the federally recognized Capitan Grande Band of Diegueno Mission Indians of California.

The O’odham people traditionally inhabited much of the area spanning what is now the U.S. and Mexico in the desert southwest. O’odham bands are now broken up into four federally recognized Tribes: the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Gila River Indian Community, the Ak-Chin Indian Community, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Each band is now politically and geographically distinct and separate. A remaining band, the Hia-C’ed O’odham, is not federally recognized but resides throughout southwestern Arizona.

Tribal trust lands located directly along the border include approximately 62 miles of the Tohono O’odham Nation reservation and about 6 miles of the Cocopah Indian Tribe reservation in Arizona. The federal government holds legal title to these trust lands for the benefit of the respective Tribe.

The southwest border also comprises biodiverse lands, including the habitats of dozens of threatened and endangered species of animals and plants. Additionally, this area encompasses the ancestral homelands for some federally recognized Tribes and other Indigenous communities. This includes, for example, the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (El Paso, Texas).

DOD manages defense installations, including the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range in Arizona which includes 37 miles along the border.

The report

Read more at Aljazeera:

"To expedite construction through these landscapes, the Trump administration relied on the 2005 Real ID Act, which allows the government to waive laws and regulations that might pose an impediment to border walls and roads.

"While previous administrations had invoked the Real ID Act, the Trump administration did so with unprecedented zeal, utilizing it between 25 and 30 times, compared with just five during the Bush administration.

"The Trump administration also declared undocumented crossings at the southern border a national emergency, empowering the government to overrule existing laws in the name of national security."

"This is the third time Chertoff has used the waiver power. He also used it Sept. 22, 2005 to finish building 14 miles of fence in San Diego, and on Jan. 19 for fencing in the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range in Arizona.

"A few of the environmental laws waived are the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Solid Waste Disposal Act.

"Chertoff also waived conservation laws, such as the National Historic Preservation Act and the Antiquities Act."

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