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South Texas Residents Continue Fight Against Border Wall Despite COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped the Trump administration’s push for a border wall in South Texas. But it also didn’t stop residents of Webb and Zapata counties from protesting against the efforts.

Clad in face masks that read “no wall,” the No Border Wall Coalition gathered for a socially distanced protest at Laredo’s federal courthouse on Tuesday. A parade of cars drove by and honked in support.

“We’re going to stop this project,” said Raquel de Anda, whose family has owned a riverfront property in Webb County for 50 years. “We’re going to stop it in the courts and in the streets, and we’re going to protect this land for future generations like my family taught me to.”

She could be the first of many landowners to see a border wall on her property if the administration succeeds. She said she wanted to show support for a new federal lawsuit filed against the Trump administration on Monday.

The lawsuit says the Trump administration’s attempts to expedite border wall construction through an executive order and waivers discriminate and violate the rights of landowners in Zapata and Webb counties. Attorney Carlos Evaristo Flores filed the lawsuit on behalf of Zapata County and two landowners in the area.

Many landowners, including the City of Laredo and Zapata County, have been trying to fight lawsuits from the Trump administration for access to their land. But Flores said this is the first lawsuit in the Laredo division challenging the administration on the grounds of racial discrimination.

“We believe that the communities along the border, especially in Webb and Zapata County who are predominantly Mexican American or Mexican or immigrant, are basically the targets of animus by the president and [Customs and Border Protection],” he said. “And we believe that their actions … that it is all done in violation of the Fifth Amendment and other constitutional provisions.”

Melissa R. Cigarroa, who owns land in Zapata County, is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. She said she’s troubled that the Trump administration has waived federal laws meant to protect the environment and landowners. She said landowners on the northern border with Canada weren’t treated the same way when a barrier was placed there in 2017.

“Mr. Trump’s disdain for the Latino community is clear,” she said. “His disdain for the rule of law is clear, but there are no Constitution free zones in America, and we intend to show just that.”

She’s also worried that they have continued to try to survey her land during the coronavirus pandemic.

“They bring people from outside the community to do this work,” she said. “You’re going to introduce the potential to spread the virus from people who are coming from outside the community, and they’ve given us no reassurances. They’ve given us no indication that they would have some type of testing procedure.”

Due to the coronavirus, the protest was fairly small but demonstrators placed dozens of shoes outside of the courthouse to represent people who could not attend the protest. Four public parks, the city’s historic downtown and an orphanage are among other properties that would be impacted by the border wall, de Anda said.

“Even if you’re not a landowner whose family lives on the land, if you’re a resident of Webb County, you will be affected,” she said. “And even if you don’t live here, you’ll be affected because billions of dollars will be put into the militarization of this border and this huge, racist monument will be built.”

The Trump administration is expected to respond within about 21 days of being served, Flores said. He said most border wall lawsuits have been dismissed by courts, but he thinks they have the potential to win because the border communities are overwhelmingly Latino, and Trump has repeatedly made negative comments about Mexicans.

“We’re not trying to stall the process,” he said. “We really believe that this has been done incorrectly and that we will prevail.”

Maria Mendez can be reached at Maria@tpr.org and on Twitter at @anxious_maria.

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