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Border war through indigenous eyes

The southern border indigenous nations continuously face abuse of authority and violation of rights by the current and proposed U.S. anti-immigrant legislation, and border enforcement policies and practice.

The Alianza Indigena Sin Fronteras is an affiliate of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development. Founded in 1997, the Alianza's goal is to promote indigenous human/civil rights and border rights, and bring attention to southern indigenous border issues. The Alianza strongly opposes a permanent U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on I-19. This permanent checkpoint is just another manifestation of a policy that has hurt indigenous peoples.

Since 1990, indigenous peoples on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border have been profoundly and negatively affected by the U.S and Mexican governments' ongoing domestic ''wars'': The war on the poor, the war on illegal immigration, the war on drugs and now the war on terrorism.

We are especially concerned about the continuous policy-fueled militarization of the southern border region. This militarization has funneled undocumented migrant traffic into dangerous and environmentally sensitive areas and sacred sites, and brought these domestic wars onto indigenous borderlands. The safety of indigenous border residents - including elders, women and children - is at risk.

Our indigenous human and civil rights are continuously violated by law enforcement's abuse of authority, as well as by the effects of domestic war policies that deliberately push migrants into specific lethal/tough terrain areas and create desperation, fear and violence. In addition, the recent Mexican border violence of Caborca, Cananea and other border communities may spill over to indigenous borderland communities of the Tohono O'odham Nation, Cocopah, Kickapoo and Kumeyaay, and further compromise indigenous peoples' public safety.

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For the past 17 years, nationalism, xenophobia and anti-immigrant hysteria have been on the rise. These attitudes promote and support built-in

institutional racism, abuse of authority and violation of rights. The implementation of anti-immigrant border enforcement policies in our southern borderlands sends a chilling message to both law enforcement officials and civilian ''militias'': ''If you don't discriminate and violate someone's human/civil rights some of the time, you are not patriotic and/or doing your job.''

This militarized border zone, with its institutional racism and deep disrespect for human and civil rights, has been imposed on the southern indigenous peoples and communities. Our indigenous ways, quality of life, culture, sacred sites and environment have been disrupted. That is what we as indigenous peoples have been subjected to in the current border war.

For over a decade, the federal government has devoted increasing amounts of money and manpower to fortifying longer stretches of the border in service to its claimed goal of reducing undocumented immigration, drugs and ''terrorist threats'' from and through Mexico. To date, these efforts have done nothing but create an increase of border violence, border deaths, profitability of people smuggling (particularly from countries other than Mexico) and violations of human rights - all the while redirecting the path of undocumented immigrants and drug/people smugglers through indigenous borderlands.

Current and proposed enforcement measures will create more violence and division among indigenous communities. These measures are assaults on our limited sovereignty, self-determination, borderlands and sacred sites. They are not a solution to the challenges we face. To fix our broken immigration system, we must enact legislation that implements protection of indigenous peoples' human rights, border rights of mobility and passage, ways of life, cultures, borderlands and sacred sites. We, Alianza Indigena Sin Fronteras, strongly oppose a permanent I-19 checkpoint.

Jose R. Matus is project director and ceremonial leader of Alianza Indigena Sin Fronteras, and a member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. He can be reached at or at