A tribal nation in Arizona that has been resisting the Trump administration’s plans to build a border wall through its territory says it is investigating a “disturbing” video of a U.S. Border Patrol SUV driving away after striking a tribe member.
Tohono O’odham member Paulo Remes said he was outside his family’s house in Topawa on Thursday, about 20 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, when he spotted the Border Patrol passing through town.
“I ran into the dirt road in front of my house” and started recording, Remes told the Arizona Daily Star, “because I know they’ll try and hit me.”
Indeed, the SUV appeared to drive straight into Remes, filling the camera frame and sending him tumbling into the dust.
“M87864,” Remes said as he sat in the road, reciting the vehicle’s license plate to a friend on the phone. “They just ran over me, bro. They just ran me over.”
Remes, 34, had thought the agent might turn around after turning on his sirens, he told the Daily Star. But the vehicle drove away, leaving another tribe member to take Remes to a hospital for his bruises.
“This is what we have to deal with constantly,” Remes’s neighbor Amy Marie said when she posted his video, which has since been viewed hundreds of thousands of times and has stirred yet more anger within the tribe at Border Patrol in the Trump era.
Straddling the border on nearly 3 million acres of ancestral land, Tohono O’odham members commute freely between the United States and Mexico. “A tribal ID serves as a passport of sorts,” the Arizona Republic wrote.
But heavy-handed immigration agents have long infuriated the community, tribe members say.
Residents have accused agents of walking into their homes unannounced to ask whether they’re Mexicans, holding them at gunpoint and commandeering their yards for armed stakeouts, John Pomfret wrote for The Washington Post in 2006.
A Border Patrol agent once drove over and killed an intoxicated 19-year-old lying in the road at night. A judge set the agent free, angering many in the tribe.
The tribe has nevertheless allowed the Border Patrol to build bases on its land, Pomfret wrote. It has worked with the agency to patrol and barricade its 75-mile-long border with Mexico — which drug smugglers, human traffickers and migrants crossed so often during the George W. Bush presidency that part of it was dubbed “Million Backpack Hill.”
That uneasy relationship between the U.S. government and tribe fractured even further after President Trump announced plans to wall off the entire U.S.-Mexico border — a project now underway despite many logistical problems.
“I say, in the spirit of my elders, over my dead body,” tribe vice chairman Verlon Jose told the Telegraph in January. “This could be the last of the Indian Wars.” Even after installing vehicle-blocking barricades across the border at the government’s request in the 2000s, tribe members can still go in and out of Mexico relatively easily to visit each other or take part in ancestral ceremonies.
“The wall would make traveling across the border seem impossible,” Jose told the Republic, worrying that hundreds of Tohono O’odham members now living in Mexico would be effectively cut off from the bulk of the tribe.
Still, he said, leaders of the impoverished tribe were worried about provoking the U.S. government and risking federal funds.
After Remes’s video began circulating, tribe chairman Edward D. Manuel released a terse statement, saying his police would work with the FBI to investigate.
“The Nation is aware of disturbing video footage of the incident that has been posted online,” it reads. “As this is an active investigation matter, no further comments are available at this time.”
Border Patrol officials did not immediately respond to questions from The Washington Post, but a spokesman for the agency’s Arizona office told the New York Times that it was cooperating with the investigation.
“We do not tolerate misconduct on or off duty,” the spokesman said, without naming the agent accused of striking Remes.
Remes could not immediately be reached, but his family released a statement through the group Indivisible Tohono.
“Paulo’s incident is not the first that the O’odham community has experienced,” it reads. “Tohono O’odham have been feeling the increasing struggle of maintaining our Himdag (Way of Life) and Sovereignty in the face of the greater militarization and U.S. Border policies.”