Suspending the Law to Build a Wall


Saguaro cacti at Organ Pipe National Monument. This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Drax Delton at the Q52 project.

The Trump administration has unilaterally suspended more than two dozen laws in border areas in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and California to allow border wall construction to proceed without any legal limitation. These laws  include:

  • The National Environmental Policy Act
  • the Endangered Species Act
  • the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act
  • the National Historic Preservation Act
  • the Migratory Bird Treaty Act
  • the Migratory Bird Conservation Act
  • the Clean Air Act
  • the Archeological Resources Protection Act
  • the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act
  • the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988
  • the Safe Drinking Water Act
  • the Noise Control Act
  • the Solid Waste Disposal Act
  • the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
  • the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act
  • the Antiquities Act
  • the Historic Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act
  • the Farmland Protection Policy Act
  • National Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956
  • the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act
  • the National Trails System Act
  • the Administrative Procedure Act
  • the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899
  • the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
  • the Eagle Protection Act

The Trump administration also suspended the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

The Tohono O’odham people live near the U.S.-Mexico border. Their ancestral lands hold cemeteries and sacred sites, along with boulders and cactus and sand. In an article in Business Insider, J. Weston Phippen compares the border wall construction underway now to “building a 30-foot wall through Arlington Cemetery.” He visited the wall with Ofelia Rivas, a tribal leader and activist.

“In her favorite memory of Quitobaquito Springs, Ofelia Rivas is a teenager. The elders had agreed to teach her the ceremony, passed through generations of Tohono O’odham warriors, even though she was so young, and a woman. Their car left the highway in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument just before the US-Mexico border, onto a dirt road that was once a wagon trail. Conquistadors and Jesuit priests exploring the new world had carved the path, though Rivas knew her own people’s history here reached back thousands of years.

“From the car’s windows, Rivas looked up at saguaro and organ-pipe cactus that were the tallest she’d ever seen. The desert monsoons had washed boulders and sand across the two-track rut, and the overgrown mesquite branches clawed at the doors with a screech. When they reached Quitobaquito, the elders bent to drink from the water. Then they built a small fire to warm their coffee, because the old men loved coffee, and for the rest of the day Rivas wandered the rocky hills alone, stopping to pray over the graves of her ancestors. As the sun set, she returned to the elders by the still burning fire, where she first learned the blessing for this land.”

Besides the Tohono O’odham claim to the land, 23 endangered and at-risk species live in the area. Their lives and migration patterns are already disrupted by construction and will be permanently changed by the wall.

When Phippen and Rivas visited this year, the destruction of natural and sacred sites was already clear:

“Before construction began last summer, the National Park Service surveyed the 60-foot path scraped by CBP’s bulldozers. The survey found 22 archaeological sites and countless artifacts, like arrowheads, knives, pottery shards, rocks cracked by fires that may have warmed the descendants of the O’odham 10,500 years ago, even bones. CBP said it had recovered all artifacts before construction. But that meant they’d been removed from the land — beyond the blessing. And with the wall, nothing would remain as Rivas remembered it.”


About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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