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Tohono O’odham Nation testimony

Given at a Full Committee Hearing:
Enhancing Border Security
Thursday, June 17 2004 — 9:30 a.m. — SR- 253

The Testimony of Ned Norris, Jr. Chairwoman, Tohono O’odham Nation



Mr. Chairman, and Members of the Committee, I am Ned Norris, Jr., Vice-Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation in Arizona. On behalf of the Nation, I am submitting this statement in support of S.2295. I also request the Committee’s favorable consideration of a proposed amendment to the bill that reflects the unique border security challenges that derive from the 75-mile stretch of international border that the Tohono O’odham Reservation shares with Mexico. Our proposed amendment is attached at the end of this testimony.

We fully support the purposes and objectives of S.2295 to set forth a comprehensive strategic framework to improve border security and to more effectively coordinate law enforcement efforts among the Federal, State and Tribal Governments who have jurisdiction along America’s international borders. Before addressing the specifics of our current border security infrastructure and communications capabilities and vulnerabilities, my statement will provide general background about the Nation as well as the background and extent of our current border security crisis.


The Tohono O’odham Nation (Nation) is a federally recognized Indian Tribe in South Central Arizona with over 28,000 enrolled tribal members. The Tohono O’odham Reservation consists of four non-contiguous parcels totaling more than 2.8 million acres in the Sonoran Desert, and is the second largest Indian Reservation in the United States. The largest community, Sells, is the Nation’s capital.

The 75-mile southern border of our Reservation is the longest shared international border of any Indian Tribe in the United States. As a federally recognized Indian Tribe, the Nation possesses sovereign governmental authority over our members and our territory.

Accordingly, the Nation provides governmental services to one of the largest Indian populations in America and is responsible for managing one of the largest Indian reservations in the America. Moreover, the Nation spends approximately $7 million annually from tribal revenues to meet the United States’ border security responsibilities. The Nation’s longest international border of any Tribe in the United States has created an unprecedented homeland security crises for America.

Prior to European contact, the aboriginal lands of the O’odham extended east to the San Pedro River, West to the Colorado River, South to the Gulf of California, and North to the Gila River. In 1848 the United States and Mexico negotiated the terms of theTreaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which among other things, established the southern boundary of the United States. The Treaty placed the aboriginal lands of the O’odham in Mexico. In 1854 through the Gadsden Purchase, the United States and Mexico further defined the southern boundary by placing the boundary at its present location cutting into the heart of our aboriginal territory.

Consequently the boundary displaced our people on both sides of the international border bisecting O’odham lands and separating our people from relations, cultural sites and ceremonies, and access to much needed health care, housing, and transportation. Not surprisingly, neither the United States nor Mexico consulted with the O’odham during the Treaty negotiations in 1848 and 1854. Respect for the sovereign status of the O’odham was simply ignored.

Unfortunately, the lack of consultation or input from the O’odham continued throughout the generations leaving us with a modern-day border security crisis that has caused shocking devastation of our land and resources. The genesis of this crisis stems from the development and implementation of the U.S. government’s border policy in the last decade.

Again, without the benefit of consulting with us,federal border security policy was developed focusing on closing down what were considered to be key points of entry along the U.S. southern border. This policy was implemented by extensively increasing manpower and resources at ports of entry and located at popular entry points such as San Diego (CA), Yuma (AZ), and El Paso (TX). Rather than preventing illegal immigration into America, this policy created a funnel effect causing the flow of undocumented immigrants, drug traffickers, and other illegal activity to shift to other less regulated spots on the border.

Consequently, because of the lack of border security resources and attention to the Nation, illegal immigration through our Reservation has become a prime avenue of choice for undocumented immigrants and drug trafficking activities traveling into the United States. This has created urgent challenges to protect against possible terrorists coming through a very vulnerable location on our Reservation.

Although the Nation has neither the sufficient manpower nor the resources to adequately address this crisis, we continue to be the first line of defense in protecting America’s homeland security interests in this highly volatile and dangerous region.


The modern day consequences of the border security crisis facing the Nation is indeed devastating to our members, our lands, our culture and precious resources. While illegal immigrant and drug trafficking have decreased on other parts of the southern border of the United States, levels have sky-rocketed on the Nation causing a flood of crime, chaos and environmental destruction on our Reservation.

Currently, it has been conservatively estimated that over 1,500 immigrants illegally cross daily into the United States via our Reservation. A Border Patrol spokesman recently reported that the Nation is in the busiest corridor of illegal immigration in the[America]. Tribal members live in fear for the safety of their families and their properties. Often times, homes are broken into by those desperate for food, water and shelter.

The Nation’s seventy-one member police force provides primary border security law enforcement services against the unrelenting and ncreasing traffic of undocumented immigrants and drug traffickers who cross our border to enter America. The Nation has sustained a loss of millions of dollars annually in manpower, health care, sanitation, theft and destruction of our property and lands from the relentless flow of illegal immigration. Equally devastating is the adverse impact on our cultural resources and traditions as our Tribal elders no longer gather ceremonial plants in the desert for fear of their safety.

The Nation stands on the front line of this crisis without receiving any funding from the Department of Homeland Security although the 75 mile international border along the Reservation’s boundary is one of the busiest illegal entry points in the country according to a recent Los Angeles Times report.

Indeed, the statistics are staggering: In 2004 alone, 27,130 undocumented immigrants have been detained and arrested crossing the border on our Reservation. Since October 2003, approximately 180,000 pounds of narcotics have been seized.

There are 160 known illegal border crossing sites along the 75 mile shared border with Mexico in 36 locations, there are no barriers at all. In 2003, sixty-nine people died on our Reservation crossing the border leaving the Nation to pay for the burial and related costs. The Nation pays for autopsy costs at $1,400.00 per body out of tribal police funds. The Nation loses approximately $2 million annually from our allocation of Indian Health Care funding due to emergency health care treatment of undocumented immigrants taken to our health clinic. The Nation is forced to address the 6 tons of trash a day that is littered on our Reservation by fleeing undocumented immigrants.

This predicament has caused serious environmental problems and contributes to the 113 open pit dumps on our Reservation that need to be cleaned up. Moreover, the Tohono O’odham Nation Police Department (TONPD) has stretched its resources to the limit and now spends $3 million of its tribal resources annually in response to border related incidents. To date, the Nation has expended $7 millions dollars in tribal resources on Homeland security issues, which is clearly a federal responsibility.

For example: On an average day, every public safety officer in the TONPD spends 60% of his or her time working on border related issues. In 1999, our Tribal Officers assisted the border patrol with 100 undocumented immigrant apprehensions per month. In 2002, our Tribal Officers recorded 6,000 undocumented immigrants detained pending USBP pick up.

In 2002 and 2003, 1,500 undocumented immigrants crossed our tribal lands each day. Illegal narcotics seizures have more than doubled in the last 3 years to over 65,000 lbs. in 2002. It is no longer just Mexican nationals crossing our reservation land. Over the last year, undocumented immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras, and Central America have been apprehended on our Nation.

In 2002, 4,300 vehicles were used for illegal drug and immigrant smuggling. A total of 517 stolen vehicles were recovered on tribal land. From January 2003 to today, 2,675 abandoned vehicles were found on the reservation with 308 stolen vehicles used for criminal activities en route to Mexico. These vehicles were stolen in Tucson, Phoenix, and Chandler etc and used for illegal activity. Since January 2003, 48 undocumented immigrant deaths from heat and exposure were investigated by Tribal Police. A total number of 7 staff members are in the criminal investigations unit. The Tribal Police pay for autopsy costs at $1,400.00 per body out of tribal police funds. In 2003, Tribal police investigated 10 vehicle crashes involving undocumented immigrants.

In FY 2002-2003, the USBP Casa Grande Sector apprehended 55,514 undocumented immigrants on our lands. Many other areas on the Nation, such as our limited hospital and ambulance services have been similarly negatively affected. Overall, it is estimated that the Nation expends $7 million of its tribal resources annually on services directly relating to border issues. Part of the expenditure relates to health care and environmental clean up services. When the Nation pays for federal responsibilities, we are unable to address much needed education, health care, housing, roads, infrastructure issues, to name a few. Below are a couple of key examples. In 2003, the Indian Health Service (IHS)-Sells Service Unit spent $500,000.00 on emergency health care services to undocumented immigrants, for example, for those at risk of dying from dehydration.

These funds are not reimbursed to IHS and result in the inability of certain tribal members to receive health care services that are allocated for their benefit. The Nation spends millions of dollars a year to pay for the 6 tons of trash per day left by undocumented immigrants and the Nation is faced with cleaning up the 113 open pit dumps on the Reservation. There are 758 homes on the Reservation (20% of all homes on the Reservation) are without potable water and 1,393 (38% of all homes) are without a sewer or water system. Many of the residents at these homes use either hand-dug or agricultural wells for drinking water and are exposed to contaminants such as fecal coliform, arsenic and fluoride in excess of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards. The total need to construct suitable drinking water and waste water systems for these homes is estimated at $24.4 million.


The Tohono O’odham Nation is working as diligently as possible on border security protection. However, the current crisis is overwhelming us. We need immediate and substantial assistance. We have limited border infrastructure: the 75 miles of international border that stretches along our Reservation is protected by a three-strand barbwire fence, at least in places where the fence is still standing. The fence is down in most places, cut down by perpetual stream of illegal crossers. Our surveillance capabilities are similarly limited, with respect to ground and aerial surveillance. We have basic communications capabilities.

The 75 mile stretch of international border along the Tohono O’odham Nation continues to be very vulnerable due to the limited border infrastructure and the extreme lack of resources and technology along the border. Moreover, the ever increasing influx of undocumented immigrants and narcotics crossing through our Reservation renders the region an extremely difficult and dangerous area to secure.

With respect to coordination, we are currently working with the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (BCBP) and coordinating our efforts under the Arizona Border Control Initiative (ABCI). The Tohono O’odham Nation Police Department (TONPD) through a joint effort with the Border Area Narcotics Network (BANN) and COBIJA operation (used along the Borders of TX, NM, AZ and CA) provide a high intensity deterrence of narcotic and undocumented immigrant smuggling on our Reservation. The TONPD participates in the sharing of statistical data and intelligence information with the Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) center. The TONPD works well with Federal, State and Tribal agencies throughout Arizona, and domestic and foreign entities. The BCBP provides air support at the request of the TONPD, when it is available. Interoperability For The Tohono O’odham Nation Over the past four years, a top border security priority for the Tohono O’odham Nation has been to gain interoperability between first responders: TONPD, Tohono O’odham Fire Department (TOFD) and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) contracted under Indian Health Service (IHS). The TONPD has limited communication ability with BCPB through an ACU 1000.

The key challenge in gaining interoperability is the disparity of radio frequency being used between the first responder agencies. The TONPD was established using initially a 400 megahertz (Mhz) frequency, that was later upgraded to its current 800 Mhz status. When the TOFD was established, a joint agreement with IHS added the TOFD to IHS’s existing 700 Mhz frequency, which also included EMS. As a result, the three first responder agencies have two different frequencies to serve one community.

The cost to bring at least the tribal agencies (TONPD and TOFD) under one frequency was estimated to cost over one million dollars, but would only provide 75% coverage for the 4600 square miles just for the contiguous land mass. Interoperability requires not only a common frequency, but also a common communications center. Many of the grant opportunities that exist do not include funding for brick and mortar, thus funding opportunities for equipment and technical assistance have little utility without an operational facility. Currently, our first responders communicate between two dispatch centers with equipment and frequencies that are not common, thus debilitating our response time and service capability to our communities.

For instance, a 911 call that is placed by a community member is placed with TONPD, then transferred to EMS through a land line and then passed on to TOFD to create the loop. But when seconds are minutes in a crisis this only challenges the critical hour that is needed to get assistance to that member. The now aging equipment requires a maintenance agreement that costs the Nation over $30,000 annually to support that supplies them with unsecured and non-trunked communications that potentially is a safety hazard in some situations. Within the boundaries of the contiguous land mass of the Reservation, there is a heavy presence of federal agencies such as Border Patrol, U.S. Customs, FBI and others who provide support for drug trafficking, human trafficking, and incursions by undocumented immigrants. The TONPD is a community-based policing agency that has been compelled by our unique circumstances to carry our federal border security/law enforcement responsibilities.

The lack of interoperability between these federal agencies and the TONPD has exacerbated the already overburdened resources we expend on federal border security efforts. With the increasing traffic of illegal immigration, interoperability between Border Patrol and the TONPD is necessary to request, assist and direct those resources (Border Patrol, BORSTAR) to properly manage border security responsibilities which in turn, will allow the TONPD to focus on community policing. The Impact Of The 9/11 Incident On Interoperability The unfortunate and tragic events of 9-11 brought the need for interoperability to the forefront of almost all policing and law enforcement agencies, and such focus is now on border security, including on our stretch of the international border. The increased attention however has divided our time and resources between federal initiatives, state initiatives, county initiatives to secure our border. From our perspective, we see that the Federal, State and County players want to manage and be in charge, but no one wants to provide direct funding to us for our ongoing border security efforts and unmet needs.

To gain attention to our plight, we began pursuing every avenue to tell the story of the drugs, the flood of illegal immigration, and other contraband crossing our lands. Recently a passport that was located on the Reservation that was owned by a middle easterner thought to be involved in terrorism. Although the matter was later cleared up, it demonstrates the extreme vulnerabilities that exist on our stretch of the international border. During a meeting with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Phoenix, a representative of the Department of Homeland Security took strong interest in the matters that were occurring on the Tohono O’odham Nation. Mr. Charles Cape, who was then the Senior Advisor of Wireless Telecommunication at the department of Homeland Security (DHS) visited and met with our tribal leadership to discuss the interoperability issue. The Department of Information and Technology (DIT) was given charge of working with Mr. Cape and DHS to create interoperability. During this process of working with DHS, it became quite evident that this new agency lacked an understanding of tribal culture, tradition and government to effectively work with through complex issues of tribal governance.

Mr. Cape worked with us in developing a three phase project to provide interoperability on our Reservation. Phase one, which included interoperability between the TONPD and Border Patrol, has progressed with the purchase of an ACU-1000. The ACU-1000 can simultaneously cross-band two or more different radio networks, connect a radio network to a telephone line (or SATCOM system), or even create a conference call between several different radio networks and a caller on the telephone line. The ACU-1000 was given to the Tohono O’odham Nation, but resides within the dispatch center of the Border Patrol due to the lack of space at either one of our dispatch centers. Ultimately, it will be placed with our dispatch center and we would control the communications between the different agencies.

Mr. Cape eventually moved on within the DHS, and others were left to continue the project. IN his absence, it appears that the agency’s level of commitment has declined as the project appears to have been given less priority. Department of Information and Technology (DIT) continues to meet with Border Patrol in overseeing telecommunication of the Southwest Region, and continues to work on moving the interoperability project forward, but only in incremental steps due to the department’s lack of authority within the greater DHS agency. Moreover, Border Patrol has offered to provide maintenance on our existing radio equipment, but since they lost a key communications tower on Mt. Lemmon, they have been unable to provide support in a timely manner. There has been some discussion that there is money identified in the federal FY05 budget to purchase a digital trunked system for the southwest region and the use of federal secured frequencies would be used by the Nation.

Current State of Interoperability As of June 2004, there has been movement to complete phase one of gaining interoperability between our first responders. In a recent meeting with Border Patrol, D1T and EMS, Border Patrol agreed to loan equipment to the Indian Health Service through a federal interagency loan agreement which would allow IHS’s outdated equipment to be compliant interface with the ACU-1000. DIT is pushing for full interoperability between first responders by July 2004. Since the passage of the Pima County Bond for communication system for the county, DIT along with TONPD, TOFD, EMS and the state Director of Public Safety are completing a survey regarding existing infrastructure, and current communications systems, frequencies and dispatch locations for the purpose of developing a strategic plan to spend the bond revenue. At this juncture, we are unaware of the impact this strategic plan will have on the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Other Concerns Regarding Interoperability When the state became involved with interoperability, the state Office of Homeland Security and Arizona Department of Public Safety (AZDPS), attempted to take over Quijtoa Ridge, by negotiating with Tohono O’odham Utility Authority to occupy over half of the space in their building on the ridge, they proposed antennae placement utilizing over half of the space, almost 10 time the current space that they are currently using. There was no discussion on whether the Nation would be benefactors in the use of their planned communication system, and DHS, at that time, reportedly was not aware of the plans that the state has in developing interoperability cooperatively with the affected federal agencies. In the past, the TONPD has requested tower space on locations such as Childs Mountain, Ajo tower space and tower space near Gila Bend for San Lucy and were provided with costs, but was ultimately notified that there was not enough space. In summary, our experience with regard to coordination and cooperation with Federal, State and County governments on border security matters historically has been lacking and ineffective.

Though there have been positive steps on opening lines of communication and allowing us to take part in certain initiatives, the Tohono O’odham Nation believes a strategic, comprehensive planning approach to secure the international borders is critically needed. As such, we fully supports the purposes and objectives of the S. 2295. S.2295 will provide much needed congressional direction to more effectively coordinate law enforcement efforts, to candidly and fully assess vulnerabilities, to improve communications capacity and to more equitably allocate resources to improve border security. We fully support the bill’s specific inclusion of Indian tribal governments in bill’s various provisions. Based on our experience and limited ability to secure homeland security resources, we urge the Committee to favorably act on our proposed amendment to 5. 2295 which would create a pilot project for the purpose of working directly with Tribal Governments on strengthening border security. Existing P.L. 93-638 self-determination contracting authority would be utilized to carry the purposes of the proposed tribal pilot program.

The amendment would require the submission of a report to Congress setting forth the accomplishments and barriers of implementing such a program. For too long, we have been absorbing the burdens associated with protecting the border because we must protect our lands and tribal members. Because Indian tribes are not authorized to receive direct homeland security funding, we have faced significant barriers in accessing these resources. Thus, we have not received any significant federal funding or resources for our law enforcement/border security activities, notwithstanding 9-11. Moreover, as a sovereign government, the Tohono O’odham Nation seeks a seat at the table when policy and other important decisions are made that affect us. Our amendment will ensure that we are provided both the resources and afforded proper consultation in this important initiative to strengthen America’s international borders.


In closing, on behalf of the Tohono O’odham Nation, I appreciate the opportunity to present this statement to the Committee and respectfully request the Committee’s favorable consideration of the Nation’s proposed amendment. Proposed Amendment to S. 2295 to establish a Tohono O’odham Nation pilot border project. Amend Title I to add at the end thereof a new Section 108: SEC. 108. ESTABLISHING PILOT BORDER PREPAREDNESS PROGRAM ON TRIBAL LANDS —

  1. PURPOSE. To establish a pilot program to enhance the capability of Tribal governments as first responders upon Tribal lands on or near the international borders of the United States with effective aerial and ground surveillance technologies, integrated communications systems and equipment, health and bioterror monitoring mechanisms, and personnel training, and facilitate the coordination by Tribal governments of their responses with those of federal, state, and local governments to threats and hazards to the defense and security of the United States.
  2. INITIAL PILOT PROGRAM TO PROVIDE BORDER PREPAREDNESS ASSISTANCE. The Secretary shall establish a pilot program to provide assistance to the Tohono O’odham Nation, a federally recognized Indian Tribal government, that will enhance the capability of this economically distressed Tribe carry out on a demonstration basis the purposes described in subsection (a) and to assist in the effective enforcement of Federal, State and Tribal law against all national security hazards arising from the Tribe’s proximity to the international border with Mexico.
  3. EXPANDED PILOT PROGRAM TO PROVIDE BORDER PREPAREDNESS ASSISTANCE.Upon transmission of the report required in subsection (i), the Secretary shall establish an expanded pilot program to add up to 4 federally recognized Indian Tribal governments, in addition to the Tohono O’odham Nation, to assist in the effective enforcement of Federal, State and Tribal law against all national security hazards arising from their proximity to the international borders of the United States.
  4. ADMINISTRATION OF ASSISTANCE. For each of fiscal years 2005, 2006 and 2007, the Secretary shall provide funds and other assistance to the Tribal governments under this section pursuant to flexible grant or contract authorities consistent with the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, as amended (25 U.S.C. 450b et seq.), and the Tribal governments shall administer this assistance only in accordance with the requirements of that Act.
  5. USES OF ASSISTANCE. Assistance provided to Tribal governments under this section shall be used consistent with the purposes of subsection (a) and in a manner that develops prototype inter-governmental agreements with Federal, Tribal, State, regional and local governments on strategies designed to coordinate and enhance efforts to defend against hazards to the security of the United States.
  6. AUTHORIZATION OF FUNDS. For each fiscal year, in providing assistance under subsection (b), the Secretary shall make directly available to the Tohono O’odham Nation such sums as may be necessary to demonstrate the potential worth of such a pilot program. For each fiscal year, in providing assistance under subsection (c), the Secretary shall make directly available to the Tribal governments such sums as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of (a).
  7. REPORTING REQUIREMENTS. Not later than 1 year and 30 days after implementing the pilot program under subsection (b), the Tohono O’odham Nation shall submit a report to the Secretary of Homeland Security which sets out the accomplishments achieved and obstacles encountered.
  8. REPORT TO CONGRESS. Not later than 1 year and 90 days after implementing the pilot program under subsection (b), the Secretary of Homeland Security shall submit to the Senate Committees on Indian Affairs and on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and to the House Committees on Science, on Homeland Security, and on Resources, a report describing the implementation of the pilot tribal lands program and any recommendations for improving and expanding the pilot program to other Tribal governments.

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