WASHINGTON (February 21, 2003) -- U.S. citizenship for members of the Tohono O'dham Nation, whose ancient lands straddle the U.S.-Mexico border, would remove "insurmountable barriers to celebrating their faith, visiting their family members and practicing their culture," according to the chairman of the bishops' Migration Committee.
In a letter to members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Miami Auxiliary Bishop Thomas G. Wenski urged support for legislation introduced February 12 that would provide for recognition of all enrolled members of the Tohono O'dham nation as U.S. citizens.
"Most members of the Tohono O'dham Nation are U.S. citizens by birth," Bishop Wenski said. "The Tohono O'dham have an oral culture which provides them with a deep knowledge of their history as a nation, and of their individual members. However, their oral tradition does not provide the type of written verification that state and federal governments look for when determining citizenship or birth records."
The lands of the Native American tribe known as the Tohono O'dham Nation cover 2.8 million acres in four non-contiguous areas of the Sonoran Desert. The largest community within the Nation is Sells, Arizona, which functions as their capital.
Bishop Wenski said the "Tohono O'dham Citizenship Act" would help to restore family unity, spiritual harmony, and cultural continuity.
"It would allow members to travel freely throughout their lands, practice their religion, visit their sacred places, and spend time with their families on both sides of the border," Bishop Wenski said.