Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument|Stock Photo Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument|Stock Photo

While contractors detonate explosives on public land, lawmakers move to lax regulations for border wall construction on private property.

Things are getting explosive at the Southern Border. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Meredith Mingledorff confirmed Thursday that contractors hired to build President Trump’s border wall have started detonating parts of Monument Mountain in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. News of the demolition comes the same day the Arizona State House passed a private border wall bill that would waive local permitting requirements for wall construction on private lands.

Border Blast

In an emailed statement, CBP said, “The controlled blasting is targeted and will continue intermittently for the rest of the month.” The agency added that an environmental monitor will be onsite “during these activities as well as on-going clearing activities.”

But environmental experts remain wary of the demolition. Center for Biological Diversity borderlands campaigner Laiken Jordahl called the detonations “extremely concerning.” He said wall construction is destroying wildlife and trampling on sacred tribal land.

“It’s like using dynamite to blow up a sacred site for a church,” Jordhal said.

Reached by Twitter direct message, Brian Kolfage, founder of the crowdfunded wall building group We Build the Wall, said these detonations are standard for wall construction. 

“It’s not like they are dropping bombs. They drill holes into the rock and blast just where it needs to be broken up,” Kolfage said.

Sacred Sites

The Organ Pipe Cactus National Wildlife Refuge sits just outside the Tohono O’Odham reservation. The park is home to a number of sacred sites, including an ancient Hia Ced O’Odham cemetery near the Quitobaquito Springs.

“In an effort to construct the President’s monument to his racist policies, DHS is bulldozing through numerous sacred sites of the Tohono O’Odham Nation—including Monument Hill,” Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Tucson, said in an emailed statement Thursday. 

He added, “I’ll continue working with the tribe to stop this assault on their heritage. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Not one penny should fund Trump’s vanity wall.”

Grijalva accompanied Tohono O’Odham Chairman Ned Norris Jr. in January 2020 on a tour of archeological sites throughout the national monument, as well as the adjoining Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Speaking to the Arizona Republic, Norris Jr. argued the tribe’s ancestral lands exist beyond the boundaries of the reservation. 

“They’re our ancestors. They’re our remnants of who we are as a people, throughout this whole area. And it’s our obligation – it’s our duty to do what is necessary to protect that,” Norris Jr. told the Arizona Republic. 

By law, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act requires the federal government to consult with tribes whenever construction digs up ancestral lands or burial sites. However, reporting from Cronkite News found the Trump Administration exempted much of Arizona’s border from federal regulation.

Private Wall Bill

Border wall construction may soon be exempt from local regulations as well. The Arizona State House debated HB 2084 on Thursday, a bill that would enable private landowners to build sections of the border wall without having to get permits from local authorities. While Republicans claimed the law was a matter of the rights of property owners, House Democrats argued the bill was racially motivated.

House Floor Rep. Raquel Teran, D-Phoenix, said it sends a message that “we are not wanted; we are not welcome,” and “we have moved passed this type of legislation.”

House Republicans countered that the bill was about private property rights and protecting border security.

“This wall is not to keep good people out, it’s to keep drug smugglers who kill our children out,” said Rep John Kavanaugh, R-Scottsdale. “I see nothing insulting about this wall.”

Border wall legislation has been a source of local controversy since Majority Leader Warren Peterson, R-Gilbert, first announced plans in June 2019 to introduce border wall legislation. The decision came one month after wall construction on private property in New Mexico made national headlines due to issues surrounding local permit laws.

We Build the Wall was hired to construct a portion of the border wall in New Mexico on private property along the U.S. – Mexico border. The group ran into a snag when authorities forced the group to comply with local laws and go through the required construction permit process. We Build the Wall advisory board member Tom Tancredo alleged it was a political tactic designed to kill the project in his committee testimony.

The bill passed on a party-line vote, and will now move to the State Senate,  and, if passed, sent to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk to be signed into law.

If approved by Ducey, border wall construction on privately-owned property would not be required to obtain building permits from local authorities. Groups like We Build the Wall would need only the permission of the property owner to begin construction.

In his comments about potential Arizona projects after the House vote, Kolfage said that they “have a couple in the pipeline there, but we have others in front of them that are starting soon.”