Contractor blasting through Arizona national monument to build Trump border wall

A contractor building a segment of the border wall in southwest Arizona is blasting through segments of a site local Native Americans consider sacred, according to a report from USA TODAY.

The site, Monument Hill at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, is located on the Roosevelt Reservation, a 60-foot wide patch of federally owned land on the U.S.-Mexico border. The move is part of a trend seen in the administration’s border wall execution, showing priority for building on federally owned land, which doesn’t require litigation to obtain.

In August, contractors began clearing the land, which involves removing several saguaro cacti; in Arizona, it is illegal to remove a cactus without a permit. 

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Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who represents the area, spoke out against the construction when contractors began to break ground in January.

Grijalva, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, sent a letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfDHS gives New York the red light for state's green light law DHS considered multiple ways to retaliate against 'sanctuary' states: report New York sues Trump administration over Trusted Traveler ban MORE expressing his concern for the project.

Member of Tohono O'odham Nation can trace the cultural significance of Monument Hill back hundreds of years, USA TODAY reports, with possible references in letters written by Father Eusebio Kino, the famed Jesuit missionary that proselytized the area in the late 1600s.

"This hill, from the information we've been able to gather, was used by Hia-C’ed O’odham for religious ceremonies," Peter Steere, the tribe's historic preservation officer, said during a visit to the site last month. "This is also a place, when the Apache were raiding out here, if the Apache warrior was killed, his body was placed on this hill."

Wolf announced last month that the administration had completed 100 miles of new border barriers under President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump administration eyes proposal to block jet engine sales to China: report Trump takes track to open Daytona 500 Brazile 'extremely dismayed' by Bloomberg record MORE. The administration has sought to build 450 miles of new border barriers by the end of 2020.

Trump declared a national emergency at the U.S. border in February 2019, allowing him to divert $7.2 billion in military funds to go toward border wall construction. House Democrats recently raised alarms about the administration seeking to redirect another $7.2 billion in military funding to the border wall.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

Updated: 2:30 p.m.