Border community activists oppose McCain border protection proposal

Published: Jun. 3, 2015 at 12:52 PM MST|Updated: Jun. 17, 2015 at 12:52 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - An effort to secure Arizona's border by allowing Border Patrol access to tribal and federal lands met strong opposition from border activists on Wednesday morning.

The group Apache Stronghold and Navajo sacred site protection activists held a protest in front of Sen. John McCain's Tucson office on June 3.

Protestors say the bill would allow an over-militarization of the U.S. border with Mexico.

"John McCain is passing laws to cancel U.S. laws on the border and the people of Arizona. They deserve the same protection on the law as anyone else in the country," said Randy Serraglio of the Center for Biological Diversity Southwest Conservation.

The bill, known as the Arizona Borderlands Protection and Preservation Act, would allow U.S. Customs and Border Protection to access federal land for routine patrols and surveillance.

Protestors pointed out the bill would also affect the Tohono O'odham Nation and national parks and monuments like Saguaro National Park.

The access would not apply to privately owned or state-owned land.

During the mark-up before the senate committee in May, McCain said up to 80 percent of the federal land includes wildlife refuges that have been damaged by illegal border crossings.

"I represent the people of Arizona. They're the ones that want this happening. If some people quote, don't like the bill, then that's fine, they can answer to their constituents. I have to answer to mine," McCain said in response to proposals that the bill should have a sunset clause.

"I have a border that's not controlled. Wildlife refuges are being destroyed. So in all due respect, frankly I don't give a damn if somebody that lives in Delaware doesn't like my efforts to get our border so that people who live down on that border could live in an environment of peace and security that the people of Delaware are able to live in," he said.

The bill was introduced in March and passed in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in May.

The Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture would provide training to CBP employees on the "natural and cultural resources present on individual federal land," the bill's summary states.

A house version of the bill still awaits consideration.

The Apache Stronghold has been no stranger in its opposition to McCain's other proposals.

The group has been occupying Oak Flat near Superior to protest Congress giving it to foreign-owned mining company, Rio Tinto.

"Our religion, the Apache religion, originated in these mountains, so the Oak Flat particularly, that's where our ceremonials and our songs

come from," Apache Stronghold member Standing Fox said.

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