US Immigration Reform, Border Security, and America’s Indigenous: Who has the most to lose? What can be done?

Perhaps the ones who are losing the most are the ones who the United States federal government has been aggressing on the longest. Very likely the ones who are losing the most are those with stories that are least discussed in the mainstream and even alternative press with relation to US Immigration Policy. The indigenous peoples who live along the US-Mexico border region – because their traditional homelands are bifurcated by it – are barely being mentioned by mainstream and alternative press or immigration and human rights organizations, and they have been subjected to invasion and militarization since before any US immigration policy existed. And the federal government continues to possess their ancestral lands. It’s critical that their story enter our analysis of immigration, border security, and human evolution.

An historic and solitary new jury trial is being pursued by the federal government against Eloisa Garcia Tamez, a Lipan Apache woman. On April 30, what is at stake is a second round of government takings and dispossession of property of an Indigenous female elder. The government now seeks to take the subsurface property beneath the wall. Eloisa G. Tamez seeks to protect her inherent aboriginal title and ownership, her Crown rights, her treaty rights, and the rights afforded her through Texas’ recognition of Spanish and Mexican rights to her minerals, oil, water, antiquities, material culture, and sacred intangible heritage in the subsurface.

Since 2007, a portion of her 3 acres of property has been under constant threat of ‘condemnation’ through US eminent domain.  This is significant, because this small portion of land is what is remaining in Tamez’ legal property that is part of a 12,000 acre strip formally negotiated between her Indigenous ancestors and the Spanish Crown almost 250 years ago (‘land grants’) and whittled away by settler encroachments.

A civil rights award recipient, a veteran, a nurse, an educator, and a grandmother, Eloisa Tamez put up an incredible battle in 2008 when US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff sued over 100 defendants to condemn their lands to construct the border wall. To this day, most were not consulted, and they did not fully comprehend what the flood of government administrative procedures actually meant on the ground. When they received federal land condemnation notices, they experienced numerous traumas when the government stripped them of their ancestral rights of their land, and of their rights to move freely upon their lands, and to use their lands for subsistence. Most people settled for small sums of money and were never given the opportunity to appeal for justice – especially based upon discrimination.

Even in 2007-8 when the wall was first constructed, most border security news addressed the sneaky breach in 36 environmental laws obstructing the ability to raise environmental, cultural, religious, antiquities, and water rights of the affected landowners, and ongoing reports reveal the ineffectiveness of the wall. Over those months, Tamez’ legal battle held off wall construction on her land, while the wall ended on either side of it. Her story appeared in mainstream news websites, including Time magazine, New York Times, Associated Press, Reuters, NPR, and many more. A profound article called “Holes in the Wall” by Melissa del Bosque shook up political leaders as it showed the discriminatory method of wall construction in impoverished and struggling communities. A subsequent FOIA lawsuit by Denise Gilman and her analysis of government inter-office e-mail communications has revealed concerning information related to internal knowledge that key private individuals in South Texas were privy to and had decision-making involvement in where the wall would be located—and not located.

Yet DHS constructed the wall in one day on April 24, 2008, after a federal judge instructed them to further consult with the family. Now, Mrs. Tamez says they possessed more land than was allotted by the court. Now, a proposed court schedule places the jury trial in May of 2014, but preliminary hearings began last week and the federal government is requesting immediate possession – to be addressed at the continuance hearing April 30.

But the Lipan Apaches have not been silent all along. In response to a petition, March 1, 2013 the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN CERD) sent a letter under it’s early warning and urgent action procedure to the United States government expressing concern for the discriminatory impact of the US-Mexico border wall against local indigenous tribes, and in particular that the wall could lead to the disappearance of the tribal identity of the Lipan Apache as they may be forced to leave their land. The committee requested that the state provide overdue information relating to this and related cases.

Just weeks before, on February 19, 2013 Mrs. Eloisa Tamez was on her property and came upon a private meeting between the US government and contractors discussing a new gate in the fence – a confrontation that was caught on video. As with wall construction and land confiscation, this meeting was taking place without her consultation or her Free Prior and Informed Consent. Since the wall was built four years ago, the Tamez family has never been informed how they can access their property on the south side of the wall, and and are forced to physically trespass along private dirt roads which traverse their neighbor’s lands, parallel to the wall over private properties to access a gate in order to reach their own property on the south side.

Last week, when the bi-partisan Gang of 8 introduced their new Immigration Bill, all the national news coverage and blogs noted the extreme increase to an already fanatical border security system that the legislation requires before implementing adjustments to immigration statuses. Many articles criticized the border wall and border patrol system as deeply flawed, and some mentioned the negative impacts of militarism on local communities. But all US national news neglected to mention that the process for more confiscation of indigenous lands began in court Tuesday of the same week.

Last week only two local news outlets published the story about the new court proceedings, while another local television station interviewed Eloisa Tamez about her long term struggle. A statewide Texas newspaper article from Melissa del Bosque was the only news analysis of the new comprehensive immigration reform legislation that included the Tamez story.

Militarism is nothing new to the border zone, but the increase in personnel, infrastructure and technology, with a continuous wall and 24-hour drone surveillance is more insane security culture that has overcome America and much of the world. Elbit, an Israeli firm, provided design, technology and product for this system. And Israeli opinions in 2006 warned that a wall system would be ineffective without human patrol all the way across. These models have been replicated in other countries in the last 5 years.

The petition filed May 10, 2012 to the UN CERD – from Ariel Dulitzky, Clinical Professor at the University of Texas School of Law, and Director of the Human Rights Clinic of the University of Texas at Austin; in collaboration with Dr. Margo Tamez (citizen of the Lipan Apache Band of Texas; Faculty of Indigenous Studies at the University of British Columbia Okanagan), in coordination with the Lipan Apache Women Defense, an Indigenous Peoples’ Organization (IPO), and members of the Lipan Apache Band – states, “The wall has had serious detrimental impacts on the Lipan Apache’s traditions, culture, and survival prospects. Testimonies from the tribe show that there is fear that the tribe, if forced to leave the land, might dissolve altogether and their history and knowledge will be lost to future generations.” The Tamez story is about much more than militarism and a claim to private lands. At its core, this is about the spiritual existence of the Lipan Apache people, a tribe not “recognized” by the federal government, whose existence is tied in with the land. This story is about historic and continuing discrimination against an impoverished Native American and Latino community.

Voices from Indian country have been addressing these problems in Texas and across the United States since the before nation state existed. Our continued racism against them in the mainstream and even in progressive movements means that we have a void of news coverage, allowing for the legacy against the indigenous peoples here to continue barely acknowledged. Abuse and genocide against the first peoples of this continent as the US’ original sin means that justice in America begins with the indigenous.

The entire US-Mexico border region has a rich heritage with ancient indigenous roots, as well as a diversity of ancestries including Jewish. Family histories, practices, stories, and artwork from Spanish land grant regions from California to Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas hold a precious key to the converso narrative. We have much to learn from these peoples’ stories, even about ourselves. They are a living historic treasure of knowledge between Jewish and other indigenous worlds – which are threatened by propaganda wars, ideology, non-truths, distortion, and vehement racism at the roots of the institutional and government policies against Indigenous nations worldwide.

In depth discussions still need to happen, taking honest looks at border walls and militarism, equality and cooperation. The discussions must be international, interpolitical, and intergenerational if they are to reach genuine solutions. No corporate or military actions for progress or economy should be occurring against any groups of people without consultation, or without open, critical public discourse. A collective realization must emerge and be articulated that a new paradigm is long over due with regard to reconciling with Indigenous Nations in the US and including the border regions – some of the most volatile sites of increasing violence and tensions between the government, corporations and Indigenous peoples.

How tragic it would be if at the April 30 hearing the federal government would gain immediate possession of the Tamez property in the name of security, unbeknownst to most of America and the world due to silence by the press. For all she is doing to protect her ancestral land – for herself, her people, and for all of us – Mrs. Tamez has earned our attention.

Yesterday on Earth Day 2013 it was Native American women who led a march to the Environmental Protection Agency in San Francisco protesting plans for the Keystone XL Pipeline to transport dirty tar sands oil from indigenous lands in Canada across North America. Native women have always been at the forefront of social struggle in the Americas, and with the rise of the indigenous Idle No More movement in Canada since this past December, we are seeing more Native women visibly leading initiatives for social change. Similarly, the story of Eloisa Tamez is ripe and ready to help advance humanity’s evolution.

Jewish people know on a spiritual level, Rachel Imeinu’s promise from Hashem that her children will return to their borders – this can be understood in the context of the Tamez family and the Lipan Apache people. Confiscation and destruction of sacred and burial lands, plus dispossession, are painful acts of aggression against any people and it is happening around the world. We can’t wait for the US press to bring the indigenous stories from the US-Mexico border into our consciousness. It’s up to everyone who is touched by the Lipan Apache struggle for existence to ask questions, spark conversations, and discover the significance of these challenging times.

About the Author
Wendy Kenin is a childbirth doula and mother of 5 in Berkeley, California. She produces ecofeminist Judaica, is founder of Imeinu Birth Collective, is a social media consultant, co-chair of the Green Party’s national newspaper Green Pages, and a member of the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission. Wendy is a member of the editorial board of Jewcology, and serves on the leadership circle of Canfei Nesharim.