Tohono O'odhams vs Themselves and Illegal Immigrants
It has also been a devastating summer for thousands of illegal immigrants crossing the Tohono O’odham lands from Mexico into the United States. Some 148 illegals from Mexico and Central America have died on those lands from dehydration and heat exhaustion in the past two years.
Tribal member, Mike Wilson, a former Presbyterian minister who lives in Sells, Arizona declares he will keep supplying water jugs for immigrants who travel across his lands as long as the temperature stays hot.
Tribal officials maintain that placing water jugs only encourages more migrants to cross their lands and the council passed a resolution last year prohibiting anyone from leaving water out for the immigrants.
“They are breaking into our homes and stealing our food and water.” Maintains Ronald Venture, chairman of the Baboquivari District Council, “Some tribal members
have been threatened for food and water.”
Over the objection of tribal officials, Wilson began placing water in the desert in the summer of 2002 in response to the soaring number of deaths along the Baboquivari Trail, cattle paths on the Reservation.
The Papago United Presbyterian church passed a resolution similar to the tribal one prompting the resignation of Wilson as lay pastor.
The flood of undocumented immigrants. some 1500 a day, has created an economic and social crisis not only for the United States but especially for the Tohono O’odham Indian Nation.
Formerly known as the Papagos, the Tohono O’odhans are struggling to overcome high unemployment, poverty, chronic alcoholism, drug abuse and one of the highest rates of diabetes in the country. Adding to their problems are the tribal youth being recruited by the smuggler or “coyotes” in their illegal immigrant and drug operations.
The reservation, the size of the state of Connecticut, comprises 2.7 million acres stretching across 90 miles of Southern Arizona and has a population of some 24,000 people. Tribal leaders say that money which should be used to build roads, schools and improve health care and housing conditions on the reservation is being spent on illegals crossing their lands.
Incidents that range from investigating immigrant deaths to towing away abandoned vehicles left by the coyotes have cost the Indian Nation between $6.5 and 7 million dollars last year. Besides millions for drug interdiction and assisting the Border Patrol with apprehension of the aliens, $500,000 was spent in treating undocumented immigrants at the Sells Indian Hospital plus $265,000 to conduct autopsies for illegals found dead on tribal lands.
Tribal leaders maintain the increase in the number of immigrants crossing Reservation land is a direct response to the shift in U.S. border policy which is channeling immigrant traffic from the urban areas of Texas and California to Arizona’s desert.
Tribal members have asked federal, state and county governments to get involved with the trash cleanup which amounts to some the 5 million pounds of trash a year - liquor and beer bottles, plastic water jugs, articles of clothing shed by the immigrants as the day gets hotter under the broiling Arizona sun, soiled diapers and human excrement.
So far, there has been no indication the government agencies indicate they will help the tribe with trash removal either economically or to provide the manpower as the human parade continues its march across the southern Arizona desert leaving a trail of empty water jugs, destruction to the fragile environment and dissent among the People of the Tohono O’odham Nation.