Policy Update Feb 25, 2020

Position on Border Wall Construction at Organ Pipe

NPCA submitted the following position to members of the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples ahead of a hearing scheduled for February 26, 2020.

NPCA thanks the committee for holding a hearing entitled “Destroying Sacred Sites and Erasing Tribal Culture: The Trump Administration’s Construction of the Border Wall.”

New border wall is currently under construction at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona as well as numerous other locations along the U.S.-Mexico border. The impact of the new wall on the physical and cultural landscape is striking and devastating. From the destruction of Saguaro cactus to the demolition of gravesites, it is clear that the ongoing construction disregards our obligations to protect the history and future of our border lands and border communities.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was created in 1937 to protect its namesake plant and a scenic, biologically rich portion of the Sonoran Desert. However, the park also plays an important role in protecting, preserving and interpreting archaeological sites dating back approximately 1,600 years. The recent and ongoing destruction of park lands – including traditional homelands and burial sites held sacred by the Tohono O’odham Nation – not only undermine the National Park Service’s preservation mandate under the Organic Act of 1916, it calls into question whose history matters.

On May 7, 2019, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced a plan to build a 30-foot bollard wall along the majority of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument’s 30-mile border and 15 miles of neighboring Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, as well as a segment of the border in Coronado National Memorial, replacing primarily existing vehicular barriers.

While CBP opened a comment period that ran until July 5, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) waived 41 environmental laws covering the project areas on May 15 and contracts were awarded on May 16. It’s clear that the comment period was just window dressing, not intended to have any significant impact on the construction plan. DHS has ensured that even the expertise of land management agencies like the National Park Service is not given the weight it deserves, as is demonstrated by an NPS report on archaeological resources at Organ Pipe.

In providing an additional $1.4 billion in border wall funding and no restrictions on the use of DOD funds, the FY2020 appropriations bills not only allowed more projects to move forward, it effectively provided a stamp of approval for the projects at Organ Pipe, Coronado, and other public lands along the border. And now we’re seeing the consequences of that decision.

We need to look for border solutions that are as unique as our landscapes and communities. And ensure the solutions we find don’t destroy the national treasures we’ve committed to protecting. A border wall is not the answer, for our national parks or our border communities.