SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The United States House of Representatives approved a
Republican-sponsored amendment that would waive the laws protecting
American Indian sacred sites in the construction of a security barrier just
south of San Diego on the U.S./Mexico border.

The amendment passed the House of Representatives by a 256 to 160 vote and
seeks to waive several federal laws governing construction along the last
three miles of the proposed 14-mile security barrier including the Native
American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the National
Historic Preservation Act. In all 215 of 221 Republicans in the House voted
for the amendment.

"By enacting federal laws and implementing federal mandates, we promised
Native Americans that we would protect and preserve their places of
worship, resting places for the deceased and religious freedom. This
amendment breaks that promise by not providing any mechanism for notice or
consultation upon finding any cultural, ceremonial or historical sites,"
said Rep. Dale Kildee, one of the most vocal critics of the amendment.

The security barrier has its origins in legislation passed by congress and
signed by President Clinton in 1996 to build such a barrier and the bill's
supporters claim that they are just expediting the original mandate.

The amendment virtually guarantees that the federal builders of the
security fence could disregard these laws if any sacred sites, burial
grounds or historically important artifacts are found while building the
last three miles of the barrier.

The amendment's author, Rep. Doug Ose, R-Calif., contends the barrier is
essential to national security. Ose's Press Secretary Megan Taormino
referred the matter to a press release that contained the congressman's
floor statements, in which Ose stressed the security barrier as essential
to prevent potential terrorists from entering the United States.

"We can't afford to wait," said Ose in the press release.

Also in the press release Ose cited a "a merry-go-round of endless
litigation and stalling tactics have shut down construction and blocked the
permitting process under the guise of protecting the environment."

Ose went on to claim that the environment in the area has already been
negatively effected and specifically lists the Tijuana Estuary as being
particularly damaged by "illegal traffic."

Ose's statements, however, do not directly address the suspension of NAGPRA
for this project and his press secretary did not return requests for
further comment before press time.

Though he claims that there are environmental issues at stake Kildee's
Press Secretary Peter Karafotas said his boss' main concern is the
protection of sacred sites and burial grounds.

However, Karafotas also said that the environmental concerns are equally
important, especially in light of the fact that the proposed construction
area abuts the coastal zone and power is taken away from the California
Coastal Commission to enforce existing laws.

In fact Karafotas said all his boss wanted to do was make sure that
existing laws are enforced regarding federal construction projects.

Karafotas also said his boss fears the precedent that such a law could set
for other sacred areas and burial sites across the nation.

"It's just too big a risk," said Karafotas. "If remains or sites are found
while they [build the barrier] tribes will not have to be consulted and the
laws governing their protection will be thrown right out."

Though he concedes that no sites have yet been found along the proposed
construction site, Karafotas also contends that given the large and
long-standing American Indian presence in the area - San Diego County has
18 tribes - it increase the chances that culturally-sensitive sites might
be found.