The installation of steel rebar at a site south of Donna in the Rio Grande Valley marks the first border wall construction in Texas since President Trump took office.
“This is significant because until now, we had not seen new construction in places where there had never been border barrier before,” said Ricky Garza, staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project.
Garza said the new wall construction is happening on government land but hundreds of landowners could be next.
“Unlike California, New Mexico, and Arizona — our other border states to the west — the majority of the land along the Texas border is private,” Garza said.
The Texas Civil Rights Project is representing landowners in five active eminent domain cases making their way through the federal courts.
“They range from a group of relatives in Mission who are currently fighting the border wall on their property to a group of two sisters and a cousin who own tracks of land in Los Ebanos. I have one group of clients whose land goes back to the Spanish land grants of the 1700s,” Garza said. “So this is not something that’s only happening to distant landowners or absentee owners. This is something that really would cut through the character of the Rio Grande Valley in a visceral way.”
When asked for comment on this story, U.S. Customs and Border Protection referred TPR to a Fox News article.
CBP in June proposed 95 miles of new border and levee wall through Starr, Hidalgo and Cameron counties. Contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been awarded for 65 of those miles.
“Construction is anticipated to begin in early 2020, pending availability of real estate, and will take place in locations where no barriers currently exist,” CBP said in a September press release, noting that the Rio Grande Valley is the busiest Border Patrol sector in the nation and accounts for approximately 40% of apprehensions. “The majority of its activity is occurring in areas where RGV has limited infrastructure, access and mobility and technology.”
CBP said due to restrictions put in place by Congress, no border wall construction will take place at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, La Lomita Historical Park, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, within or east of the Vista del Mar Ranch tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, or the National Butterfly Center.
Even though those areas are protected for now, environmentalists say the proposed walls would still disturb animal habitat, harm endangered species and worsen flooding in the area.
“There is absolutely no reason to do little bits of wall here or there except to give Trump something to tweet about. It’s nothing but a 2020 Trump campaign billboard,” said Scot Nicol, co-chair of the Sierra Club Borderlands Campaign. “Most of the walls in the RGV will not be done before Trump’s election, no matter how bad he wants it. Any location where landowners decide to fight in the courts — that will probably drag it out past the 2020 election. So then, landowners can hope that there is someone else in the White House that is more concerned with their property rights and their safety.”