A California tribe whose ancestral lands span across the U.S.-Mexico border is suing the Trump administration to block construction of a section of border wall that the Kumeyaay people say is desecrating sacred burial sites.
The La Posta Band of Diegueno Mission Indians filed the lawsuit in federal court in San Diego on Tuesday asking for an injunction to temporarily halt the installation of a towering metal wall until the tribe can protect its religious and cultural heritage. La Posta is one of 12 bands of the Kumeyaay people.
The tribe wants its members to be able to monitor work and interrupt it to recover human remains and cultural items.
The lawsuit was filed against President Donald Trump, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who oversaw military funds diverted for the border wall; acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf; and Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of building the wall.
“Defendants are currently constructing the border wall directly through Kumeyaay burial sites and sacred lands, causing irreversible and easily avoidable damage to Kumeyaay remains, cultural items, history, and religious practices," the lawsuit states.
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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Kumeyaay people have lived throughout the border area in San Diego and Imperial counties for more than 12,000 years. The tribe moved through its ancestral territory via a system of trails, many of which run across the U.S.-Mexico border and have religious significance, according to the lawsuit.
Places along border region are part of the tribe's creation story.
Among the places threatened by the construction is an ancient tribal cemetery near the town of Jacumba, according to the tribe. They said cultural resource surveys and Kumeyaay historians have noted the existence of human remains, burial sites, and Kumeyaay archaeological sites within the path of construction
The sealing of the border is interrupting the tribe's religious practices because its members have been threatened with being arrested and charged with criminal trespassing for attempting to reach areas to pray and conduct ceremonies, according to the lawsuit.
The tribe says its members were not consulted adequately by border officials, and they have not been allowed to secure its burial grounds nor to properly treat the remains that have been exhumed by the wall construction.
Young tribal members, including high school students, have been staging protests at the border wall to draw attention to the issue.