A human rights activist detailed atrocities occurring right here in the United States to a University of Wisconsin audience Tuesday, from trucks running over teenagers to the exhumation of bodies.
Ofelia Rivas is the Tribal Elder in the second largest reservation in the United States. About 20,000 citizens reside on the reservation she represents in the U.S. and 6,000 in Mexico, as their reservation crosses the border.
Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, increased numbers of border patrol officers did not impact the people of the reservation, Rivas said.
However, after the events of Sept. 11, problems on the reservation became more prevalent and increased in intensity.
The reservation’s three exits are now manned by border patrol, and people must declare their citizenship to leave the reservation.
“Our reservation has basically become a militarized camp,” Rivas said.
According to Rivas, the indigenous people are abused and killed, while the perpetrators go unpunished.
Rivas gave the example of an 18-year-old man who was run over by border patrol trucks while walking from one village to another.
“He was flattened out like a cardboard box,” Rivas said. “His mother wasn’t allowed to identify him.”
U.S. authorities said the man had been under the influence of drugs and alcohol and stumbled into the road, according to Rivas. However, villagers said they saw the man before the accident and he appeared to be walking fine.
Villagers believe the trucks responsible for the man’s death were used for illegal drug trafficking and said they saw drugs being loaded into the vehicles, Rivas said.
This story was one among many Rivas told, and she added the impact of border patrol officers stretches even further into the lives of the people.
Rivas said now is the time for young people to take control of the situation, and she hopes to reach as many young people as possible.
“The media doesn’t cover issues like these, but this is what your government is doing,” Rivas said. “It is your generation who can put a stop to government actions like these.”
She said the indigenous people were constantly harassed and treated like criminals on their own land.
“They can hold you at gunpoint, enter your house at any time and be on top of your house with helicopters and spotlights,” she said.
The people are not allowed to freely practice their culture, and have witnessed the exhumation of their ancestor’s remains at the hands of border patrol officers, Rivas said.
In addition, the U.S. built a wall separating Mexico and the U.S. while also dividing the reservation, Rivas said.
“We did not have the right to cross our own land and go about our lives on a daily basis,” Rivas said. “We are not allowed to cross this fence, even to go to a friends house.”
In a broader sense of the situation, Karma Chavez, a Communications Arts professor specializing in immigration issues, said more than 3,000 people have died crossing the border – 253 remains were found last year alone.
“The policies that have been put in motion have created a funnel effect, pushing immigrants to cross the border through tough terrain,” Chavez said. “This terrain is in remote regions where it is easy to be killed.”