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Indigenous Activists Arrested and Held Incommunicado Following Border Wall Protest

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16.09.2020

Two Indigenous women who were arrested by federal agents while attempting to block border wall construction in southern Arizona last week say they were chained and held incommunicado by the government without access to a phone call or lawyer for nearly 24 hours.

Nellie Jo David and Amber Ortega visited the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument early Wednesday morning to pray at Quitobaquito Springs, a desert oasis that has become a flashpoint in the Trump administration’s ongoing effort to bulldoze its way through protected lands and stand up new sections of border wall. In order to mix concrete for the wall, government contractors have tapped into a desert aquifer that feeds into the springs, draining the only source of fresh water for miles around and slowly killing a sacred and ancient site of deep spiritual significance for the Tohono O’odham and Hia Ced O’odham people; David and Ortega are both Tohono O’odham and Hia Ced O’odham.

In an exclusive interview following their release from government custody, the two women described a baffling and terrifying ordeal in which they were bounced from one federal agency to another before being dropped at a private prison with no idea when they would be let out. “They didn’t read us any rights,” Ortega told The Intercept. “We both asked to speak to a lawyer. We were not given the opportunity to speak to a lawyer or make a phone call, and then we found out that it was a petty charge and that we shouldn’t have been arrested and detained to begin with, that we should have been given a citation in a week.”

Complaints filed in federal court in Tucson on Thursday show that David and Ortega were given misdemeanor charges of violating a lawful order of a government officer and violating a closure order; the area where their confrontation took place was closed to the public in October to allow for wall construction. The arrests were carried out by U.S. Park Service law enforcement personnel with support from the Border Patrol. The women were processed at a nearby port of entry before being driven to a private detention center more than 130 miles away.

David and Ortega were taken to the Florence Correctional Center, a medium-security federal facility owned and operated by the private prison corporation CoreCivic, following their arrest Wednesday morning and remained there until Thursday evening. They described being strip searched twice during their time at the facility. Both women were chained at the feet and waists “well into the night,” David told The Intercept. “We heard that they did that only because the Border Patrol or the Park Service or whoever handed us over didn’t give them any information, but they just agreed to house us,” David said. She added that detention center officials told the women that they had no authority to release them, nor did they have any information about their charges.

“We kept hearing that they were full and that they didn’t have any place for us, and so I guess for that reason we were left waiting,” she said. It seemed that part of the problem stemmed from confusion over the two women’s genders. “They thought that we were men,” David said, adding that detention center officials at one point prepared to move the pair to a men’s section. “They were going to put us in the men’s facility, and then I asked to use the bathroom and then they were just kind of like, ‘Oh shit, she’s not a man.’”

The two women spent much of the evening in a cold room with cage-like walls, waiting to be moved to their final location. Their shackles remained on while they waited, making it........

© The Intercept


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