Trump may be gone, but the fight against his border wall continues

Trump may be gone, but the fight against his border wall continues

LOS EBANOS, Texas – The men showed up unannounced, but it didn’t take Aleida Flores García to figure out why they were measuring part of her backyard. “We are here to mark where a boundary wall will go,” he told her last summer as he surveyed the farm that has been owned by his family for five generations.

Ms. Garcia, the last surviving member of her family, had successfully defended the federal government more than a decade ago, when a different president, George W. Bush, was bent on creating a barrier that would cut off a large contingent of her. Will give Earth. Now she stood guard as the men took notes and marked the way to a final obstacle, tears streaming down her face, worried she wouldn’t be so lucky again.

This time, he feared, the border wall was actually coming to Los Abanos.

A small village with less than 300 residents, Los Abanos sits on the edge of the Rio Grande, which snakes around the community in such a way that it essentially feels like an open-air barrier. This is the kind of border community where families with Spanish surnames have lived for generations, when Texas was part of Mexico. “The border has crossed us,” Ms Garcia and many residents of the Rio Grande Valley, which includes Los Abanos, are fond of saying.

Now the community is in the midst of a heated debate over shifting immigration policies, as an increase in crossings not seen in more than two decades and as Texas’ governor vows to further strengthen the border.

During a special session that ended late last month, state lawmakers approved nearly $2 billion in funding for border security. Although it was unclear exactly how the money would be spent, Mr Abbott has said he would need more than $1 billion to build a barrier at the border. So far he has raised over $54 million from a website that solicits donations.

Many residents, such as Ms. Garcia, are vocal opponents of a wall cutting off their properties, believing it to be both inhumane and would also block her bicultural and bicultural village from the rest of the border area. More than 100 landlords like him have been sued by the federal government, their land earmarked for parts of a wall that most South Texans don’t want.

“This city is too small for a wall,” said 61-year-old Flores. “It will feel like we are imprisoned in our own homes, like a prison.”

But there is also a small but growing group of residents who have concluded that only one barrier may be slowing what they see as a crippling increase in migration not seen in decades. So far this year, there have been over 13 lakh interactions between migrants and border officials.

This debate has pitted some neighbors who support the wall against many who do not. A few doors down from Ms Garcia, at least one family has publicly expressed their desire to put up more fencing. He declined an interview, but has been vocal about his position that a wall could benefit his city.

The disagreement in Los Abanos reflects those from several other communities on the southwest border with Mexico, a wall where divisions have been going on since the Clinton administration. Every president has authorized the construction of fencing since the early 1990s. The issue gained momentum after Donald Trump made it a cornerstone of his presidency, and during his four years in office, he covered hundreds of miles of obstacles, including remote areas where few people would normally cross. promised to build

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Surveys have shown little appetite for a border wall in the Rio Grande Valley, or El Valle, as the Spanish-speaking majority calls the area. In a 2018 survey conducted by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, two-thirds of respondents said they did not favor one. It tracks with national polls, which showed a majority of Americans oppose the extension of the wall.

Still, the debate is sharply divided along party lines, with eight in 10 Republicans supporting the border-wide barrier. “Building the Wall” was a regular at Trump rallies, and during his presidency, Mr. Trump built nearly 450 miles of new fences, though mostly in Arizona and not in South Texas.

Many Texans thought the issue would subside once President Biden took office. But in a move that critics said was designed to attract the support of conservative voters ahead of his re-election campaign, Governor Greg Abbott announced an ambitious proposal to drop Mr Trump.

He said he had set aside $250 million from the state’s general revenue to continue building the wall, and also asked people to donate online.

For the most part, additional fencing will be built on vacant farm properties or land owned by the state or federal government. But residents fear that many of the areas in question include populous communities such as Los Abanos, which border and frequent crossing spots for migrants.

Ms. Garcia, whose 30-acre farm is called La Paloma, has become accustomed to seeing desperate and thirsty migrants – many of them fleeing violence and poverty in Central America – wandering in their backyards. “They are humans,” she said. “The wall isn’t going to stop anybody.”

When men in construction hats and measuring tapes arrived at her home last summer while Trump was still president, she fell silent – ​​but also worried. The federal government was intent on building on her property, she said, and launched a prestigious domain case to take the property if she didn’t voluntarily give it away.

But then Mr Trump lost the 2020 election and Ms Garcia felt relieved, as President Biden vowed to stop building a wall. “We thought Biden was going to give us our land back,” she said.

But eight months after Biden became an officer, 100 lawsuits are open against Texans who own land on the border, according to the civil rights group, the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Pam Rivas, who owns property in Los Abanos but lives several miles away in the more populous city of Edinburgh, said she had little hope until the government suddenly asked owners like her to do the same last week. Till then his land will be returned. Her case is ongoing and was due to go to court this month. His lawyer Ricky Garza said the issue was not whether the government had the authority to build a wall along his seven-acre property, but how much he would be compensated for it.

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“It’s been a long battle,” said Ms Rivas, 60.

Ms Garcia, for her part, has stopped looking after her property. As planned, the new fencing would cut it off 90 percent of her backyard. “The wall is coming,” she said. “Whats up?”

While Mr. Biden halted construction on the border wall on his first day in office, lawyers for the Texas Civil Rights Project said there had been little movement in recent months to dismiss pending lawsuits and lawsuits over the property by the Justice Department , until this month, when legal filings began showing movement they were willing to return the land to a handful of owners. He also said that some construction has resumed for border barriers in parts of the Rio Grande Valley.

Justice Department officials said a few dozen cases were pending, but added that the department was also evaluating whether any landowners were eligible to get their property back and was questioning whether other owners were also able to get it back. are interested in. Some officials pointed to a case where the federal government reversed course and planned to return land to its owner in nearby Starr County.

Ms. Garcia’s two neighbors couldn’t wait. He sold his land and left the area after receiving a letter from the federal government. Los Abanos – named by early Mexican settlers who stumbled upon a wealth of ebony trees – is small enough that everyone knows each other. The post office doubles as a gathering place. Children go to school in nearby cities.

The population never grew beyond a few hundred inhabitants, even as the village flourished in the early 1930s with two churches, its own school, and several closed businesses, which are today an abandoned one. Looks like a western movie set.

The same road leads residents in and out of the village – most of whom live below the poverty line – and there are frequent patrols of white and green Border Patrol trucks.

The village, best known for the hand-pulled wooden boat, El Chalon, that carried people and their cars across the Rio Grande, was not expected to be thrust into the national fight over immigration. . On a recent afternoon, Hidalgo County Leader Richard F. Cortez, which includes Los Abanos, called on President Biden and lawmakers in Washington to free their constituents from their burdens.

“We already have a barrier between the United States and Mexico,” he said. “It’s called a river.”

Ms Garcia agrees. Among the piles of paperwork that she lays on her case, she often returns to a satellite map that shows a thick blue line in the shape of an inverted L. This is the proposed wall, and it would separate the river from where he and his neighbors had hiked, playing from a cluster of no less than 200 cramped houses.

“It’s personal to me,” Ms Garcia said of her crusade to keep her land and live in peace in Los Abanos. “That’s all I know.”

Alain Delaqueriere contributed to the research.

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