Hun­dreds of peo­ple in Texas protest bor­der wall

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - NO­MAAN MER­CHANT

MIS­SION, Texas — Hun­dreds of peo­ple wear­ing white and chant­ing in English and Span­ish marched Sat­ur­day in Texas’ first ma­jor protest against a bor­der wall, cross­ing the earthen Rio Grande levee where Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion wants to build part of the first phase.

The pro­test­ers started what’s ex­pected to be a fierce move­ment against Trump’s best- known im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy pri­or­ity. Many of the par­tic­i­pants ac­knowl­edged they might not be able to stop a project that the U.S. gov­ern­ment is al­ready plan­ning, but they hoped to draw na­tional at­ten­tion to the cause and per­suade law­mak­ers who have yet to sign off on fund­ing for the project.

“We might seem small and in­signif­i­cant. Maybe we are,” said An­thoney Saenz, a 19-year-old na­tive of the Rio Grande Val­ley, the south­ern­most point of Texas and a re­gion where Trump has called to put 60 miles of wall as part of a $1.6 bil­lion pro­posal. “But when our voices come to­gether, when we band to­gether as a com­mu­nity to try to get a voice out there, we have to hope we get heard,” he said.

Or­ga­niz­ers of Sat­ur­day’s protest wanted to make clear the depth of lo­cal op­po­si­tion to the bor­der wall, which as pro­posed would cut through a fed­er­ally pro­tected wildlife refuge and split sev­eral bor­der towns. Some 40 groups took part in the protest, from en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists to landown­ers’ rights groups to im­mi­grant ad­vo­cates.

The pro­ces­sion set out just af­ter dawn from Our Lady of Guadalupe, a tow­er­ing church in the bor­der city of Mis­sion. Saenz, an al­tar server at the church, led the group wear­ing a white cas­sock and car­ry­ing a burner with smoky in­cense.

The pro­ces­sion grew as it headed south to­ward the Rio Grande, the wind­ing river that sep­a­rates the United States and Mex­ico in Texas. The marchers walked up­hill on a dirt path onto the lev­ees, built well north of the river to pro­tect bor­der cities in the val­ley from flood­ing.

It ended at La Lomita, a tiny cen­tury-old chapel just south of the levee. Some peo­ple qui­etly prayed in­side the chapel as a rally went on out­side.

While the U.S. House has passed a spend­ing bill with fund­ing for the wall, it faces an un­cer­tain fu­ture in the Se­nate, where Democrats and some Repub­li­cans have spo­ken against it.

Gov­ern­ment con­trac­tors have al­ready been tak­ing soil sam­ples along the Rio Grande lev­ees and have be­gun to ex­am­ine prop­erty own­er­ship records for the land con­dem­na­tion law­suits a bor­der wall would likely re­quire, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal of­fi­cials and landown­ers near the river. A map re­leased by U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion shows ten­ta­tive plans to build 28 miles of wall on the levee in Hi­dalgo County, the most pop­u­lous county of the val­ley. Sec­tions of fenc­ing al­ready stand on about 20 miles of the levee in Hi­dalgo County, built un­der the Se­cure Fence Act of 2006.

The re­main­ing 32 miles would go in sec­tions far­ther west in Starr County, po­ten­tially seal­ing off or split­ting some bor­der towns from the river and con­sign­ing homes and farm­land to what some de­ri­sively call “the Mex­i­can side.”

Un­der the cur­rent pro­posal, the wall would seal La Lomita on the south­ern side of the levee. It would also cut through the Santa Ana Na­tional Wildlife Refuge, a ver­dant sanc­tu­ary for 400 species of birds and nearly half of the but­ter­fly species found in North Amer­ica. The U.S. De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity can waive en­vi­ron­men­tal re­views to build more quickly, and has al­ready is­sued a waiver for pro­posed con­struc­tion in San Diego.

Scott Ni­col, co-chair­man of the Sierra Club’s Border­lands cam­paign and an or­ga­nizer of Sat­ur­day’s rally, said some peo­ple who were neu­tral or quiet about the last U.S. gov­ern­ment ef­fort to build a bor­der bar­rier are speak­ing against it this time.

“Be­cause peo­ple have seen the walls go up and see what they do, it’s not sort of an ab­stract, imag­ined con­cept,” Ni­col said. “There’s a lot more op­po­si­tion to it now than there was 10 years ago.”

Marie Mon­talvo, a res­i­dent of San Ben­ito, Texas, said she had been fol­lowed by the Bor­der Pa­trol dur­ing a re­cent visit to Santa Ana to take pic­tures.

“I want my nieces and neph­ews, and the chil­dren of the Rio Grande Val­ley, to know that I was com­pletely against this,” Mon­talvo said.

AP/ERIC GAY

Al­tar server An­thoney Saenz (sec­ond from right) waves in­cense Sat­ur­day as he helps lead a pro­ces­sion to­ward the Rio Grande to op­pose the wall the U.S. wants to build at the Mex­i­can bor­der.

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