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Indigenous Border Activists Arrested, Thrown in Immigration Jail, Chained, Denied Lawyers

September 23, 2020 (1 min read)

Ryan Devereaux, The Intercept, Sept. 16, 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 and released.”