Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Tohono O’odham and Inter Tribal Council pass resolutions opposing S.B. 1070
By Gale Courey Toensing
Story Published: Jun 15, 2010
Story Updated: Jun 11, 2010
SELLS, Ariz. – The Tohono O’odham Nation and Arizona’s intertribal council have passed resolutions against S.B. 1070 – an anti-immigration state law that has unleashed a storm of protest from opponents who say it is a racist call to discriminate against people of color.
The Tohono O’odham Legislative Council passed a resolution May 19 opposing S.B. 1070 as “discriminatory state legislation” and supporting “lawful measures to repeal or invalidate” it.
Tohono O’odham Chairman Ned Norris Jr. presented the resolution to the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. On June 4, the council’s 20 members unanimously approved a separate resolution against the law, council Executive Director John Lewis said. Both resolutions will be brought to the National Congress of American Indians at its mid-year meeting June 20 – 23 in Rapid City, S.D., where the congress will be asked to adopt a resolution opposing S.B. 1070.
S.B. 1070, which was signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer April 23, makes the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and gives police officers virtually unrestricted power to detain anyone they have a “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country illegally.
Police officers may consider race, color, or national origin to determine “reasonable suspicion” – an open invitation to racial profiling that is highlighted in the O’odham resolution.
“By failing to provide a definition for the ‘reasonable suspicion’ that allows state law enforcement officers to investigate immigrations status, S.B. 1070 encourages racial profiling that will disproportionately affect minority residents with legal immigration status.”
Furthermore, S.B. 1070 will also impact Arizona’s huge Native population, the resolution says.
“Although Native Americans have been present in what is now Arizona since time immemorial, many tribal members speak English as a second language, do not speak English, or were not issued birth certificates and lack documentation establishing their citizenship and lawful residence in the United States, and S.B. 1070 therefore will expose Arizona tribal members to arrest if they are suspected of being illegal aliens and cannot document their citizenship or lawful presence in the United States.”
The problem will be particularly acute on Tohono O’odham land, which is dissected east and west by state Highway 86. Tribal members use the highway and even sometimes hitchhike on it to get into Tucson, and therefore are vulnerable to any state law enforcement officer with a “reasonable suspicion” that those tribal members are illegal, Norris said. The police would have the authority to question and detain tribal members who couldn’t prove their citizenship.
“S.B. 1070 has the potential to create tension between law enforcement and the community not only outside the O’odham nation, but also inside the nation on Highway 86. Our concern is if a segment of the community is afraid to cooperate with the (state) police it’s our view that everyone in the community suffers,” Norris said.
While S.B. 1070 has a provision to acknowledge tribal enrollment cards as allowable identification, the O’odham resolution opposes requiring members to carry proof that they are “lawfully present within their aboriginal homelands.”
Tohono O’odham’s aboriginal territory was huge, covering southwestern lands extending south to Sonora, Mexico, north to central Arizona north of Phoenix, west to the Gulf of California, and east to the San Pedro River.
Even now, the nation has a vast homeland of 2.8 million acres in the U.S, but it is cut off from nine O’odham communities in Sonora by the international U.S.-Mexico border. The nation has an arrangement with the Department of Homeland Security and border patrol agents to acknowledge tribal identification cards to allow members from Mexico to travel north to avail themselves of health and other services the nation offers, a system that works “fairly well,” Norris said.
But it is the thousands of undocumented migrants crossing the 75-mile border onto O’odham land that presents the nation with unique challenges and expenses. S.B. 1070 does nothing to alleviate those problems, Norris said.
“It’s our belief that 1070 fails to address the border security crisis and it fails to address the need for comprehensive immigration reform.”
The O’odham nation spends more than $3 million a year dealing with the flood of illegal migrants coming through its territory, including expenses for border security, death investigations, drug trafficking investigations, trash removal and other services. The rate of migration has at times reached 1,500 people a day and now is around 700 – 800 people a day, Norris said.
O’odham’s law enforcement officers spend up to 60 percent of their time dealing with border security issues, taking away time that should be spent on protecting tribal members over the rest of the nation’s vast territory, Norris said. The nation receives no reimbursement for these expenses.
The solution is comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level, not a state law that will have disastrous consequences for the people and the state of Arizona, Norris said.
“The U.S. government needs to look at its current policies on how it addresses immigration. We believe immigration reform could make it more appropriate for persons, in this case, Mexican citizens, to become U.S. citizens. The process now is so cumbersome and discouraging and it’s not working.”
Norris said the nation also supports measures that would allow migrant workers to come into the country as guest workers. The problems of immigration are separate from the problems related to the crimes of drug trafficking.
“When we look at the migrants, all the migrants want to do is make a living for themselves and be in a position to contribute to the welfare of their own families. We believe if the U.S. reformed how it addresses immigration that would have much more of a positive impact in addressing illegal migrant activities than we currently have to deal with.”
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