By Brenda Norrell
Apache land owners on the Rio Grande told Homeland Security to halt the seizure of their lands for the U.S.-Mexico border wall on Jan. 7, 2008. It was the same day that a 30-day notice from Homeland Security expired with the threat of land seizures by eminent domain to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Homeland Security (DHS) declared that it will use the principle of eminent domain to take possession of land currently held by private ownership. DHS has also presented waivers requesting that the landowners grant DHS personnel access to their property for a 12-month period in order to conduct surveys for the intended construction project. The property owners were informed that if they do not voluntarily allow the federal agents on their property, the U.S. government will file a lawsuit to grant Homeland Security authorities unimpeded access to private land, despite the owners’ opposition. Homeland Security has stated that it will seize property even without the consent of landowners if necessary to complete the construction of the border fence.
Many landowners, as well as civic leaders and human rights activists, oppose the U.S. government’s plans to allow federal law enforcement agents access to private property. The government’s demands and aggressive tactics are in conflict with settled rights of private property ownership and are particularly disconcerting to the indigenous peoples’ communities impacted by this undertaking.
Deep Roots of Resistance
The Texas communities along the international boundary zone are largely made up of Native Americans and of land grant heirs who have resided on inherited properties for hundreds of years. Homeland Security plans to complete the Texas portions of the fence before the end of the 2008 calendar year.
“There are two kinds of people in this world, those who build walls and those who build bridges,” said Enrique Madrid, Jumano Apache community member, land owner in Redford, and archaeological steward for the Texas Historical Commission.
“The wall in South Texas is militarization,” Madrid said of the planned escalation of Border Patrol and military presence. “They will be armed and shoot to kill.”
In 1997, a U.S. Marine stationed on the border shot and killed 18-year-old Esequiel Hernandez, who was herding his sheep near his home in Redford. “We had hoped he would be the last United States citizen and the last Native American to be killed by troops,” Madrid said during a media conference call on January 7 with Apaches from Texas and Arizona. Instead, the number of people shot and killed or run over by Border Patrol and other U.S. agents has risen sharply as the militarization continues.
Dr. Eloisa Garcia Tamez, Lipan Apache professor living in the Lower Rio Grande, described how U.S. officials attempted to pressure her into allowing them onto her private land to survey for the US-Mexico border wall. When Tamez refused, she was told that she would be taken to court and her lands seized by eminent domain.
“I have told them that it is not for sale and they cannot come onto my land.” Tamez is among the land owners where the Department of Homeland Security plans to erect 70 miles of intermittent, double-layered fencing in the Rio Grande Valley.
Tamez said the United States government wants access to all of her land, which is on both sides of a levee. “Then they will decide where to build the wall. It could be over my house.” Tamez said that she may only have three acres, but it is all she has.
Tamez’ daughter Margo Tamez, poet and scholar, said, “We are not a people of walls. It is against our culture to have walls. The Earth and the River go together. We must be with the river. We must be with this land. We were born for this land.”
Margo Tamez added that the recently approved United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples guarantees the right of indigenous peoples to their traditional territories.
Rosie Molano Blount, Chiricahua Apache from Del Río noted that many people from the Chiricahua Apache have served in the United States military. “We are proud to be Americans,” Blount said, adding that the Chiricahua have always supported the U. S. government. Now, with the increasing harassment of people in the border zone, the local attitude toward the federal government is changing.
“Ya Basta! Enough is enough!” Blount said, repeating the phrase that became the battle cry of the Zapatistas in Mexico struggling for indigenous peoples’ rights.
Blount said there needs to be dialogue concerning the issues at the border, but not forced militarization or a border wall. She also directed a comment at Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “Don’t come here and divide our families, Chertoff. You believe this is the only way to do things.”
Legal Questions and Challenges
Homeland Security recently waived 22 federal laws to build the border wall in the San Pedro wilderness area in Arizona, Garcia noted. Attorney Peter Schey, director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Los Angeles, said America does not need a “Berlin Wall.”
Schey, renowned immigrant rights attorney, said Section 564 of the Homeland Security section of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill supersedes earlier legislation. Homeland Security is now required to consult with the communities. Schey said this means real consultation and real consideration of the community’s input and data. Schey took his first action by notifying Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff by letter sent by fax on behalf of Texas property-owner Dr. Tamez on Monday, the same day that a 30-day notice to Texas land owners expired with the threat of eminent domain land seizures looming. Schey informed Chertoff to halt the impending seizures of private lands. Schey said Section 564 strikes provisions of the earlier Secure Fence Act and requires Homeland Security to consult with property owners like Dr. Tamez in order “to minimize the impact on the environment, culture, commerce, and quality of life” in areas considered for construction of the border fence.
“Furthermore, we believe that the new statutory provisions invalidate the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for fence construction published on the Department’s behalf on Nov. 16, 2007, pending completion of the required local consultations and other requirements as outlined in the Omnibus Bill,” Schey told Chertoff in the letter.
Apaches at the Texas border have formed a national working group coalition of supporters, attorneys, and fellow Apaches and other indigenous peoples to resist the seizure of their lands, the desecration of their sacred places and the militarization of their communities. In solidarity, the network opposes the seizure of private lands by Homeland Security by way of eminent domain, the militarization of the border, and construction of the border wall.