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Congressman urges O'Odham citizenship

AP - Jan. 12, 2001

TUCSON - A New Jersey congressman said Thursday that he'll seek legislation to make all Tohono O'odham Indians U.S. citizens and end border-crossing and other problems faced by those living in Mexico.

Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. traveled to San Miguel, a tiny reservation community on the Mexican border, to meet with members of the tribe from the United States and Mexico.

Of the tribe's 24,000 enrolled members, about 1,400 live in Mexico, across the border from the Tohono O'Odham reservation, which covers a large section of southern Arizona starting about 60 miles south of Phoenix.

Those who live in Mexico complain of difficulties crossing the border to visit family members and participate in tribal and religious ceremonies. Tribal members who are U.S. citizens face similar frustrations when entering Mexico.

Pallone, a member of the House Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over American Indian issues, crossed briefly into Mexico with about 10 people before returning.

With permission from border guards, Pallone and his entourage crossed back onto U.S. soil through an unauthorized opening in the barbed-wire fence at San Miguel. The cattle guard there divides the reservation between the United States and Mexico.

The nearest ports of entry are Sasabe and Lukeville, about three hours east and west of San Miguel.

The fence opening at San Miguel has traditionally been used by tribal members going back and forth between countries. It also has become a popular entry point for smugglers bringing both drugs and illegal immigrants into the United States.

Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service's western regional office, said entering the country through an unauthorized site isn't an immigration violation for an American citizen, but entrants are supposed to go through a U.S. Customs inspection.


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