This week the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is expected to take more than 100 protesting landowners to federal court in an effort to allow government surveyors access onto their land. DHS is preparing to build a wall along the U.S.- Mexico border but many landowners along the border, especially in Texas, have refused to allow surveyors onto their land. These acts are more than acts of civil disobedience – they are acts of survival. Although many of these landowners despise the fact that a government imposed wall will unjustly separate sister communities along the border, it is possible that most landowners simply do not want the government stripping parts of their land.
Along the South Texas border, many families have been on their land since the 1700s when the Spanish government provided land grants to people living along the Rio Grande. Now, in an effort to “protect” the United States from undocumented immigrants, DHS is attempting to tear away portions of people’s homes to build a wall that stretches from California to Texas.
The arguments used by activists along the border vary as much as the people making the arguments. Immigrant activists argue that a wall isn’t the solution. Property owners argue that the government doesn’t have the right to take their land. The Chamber of Commerce argues that a wall will affect business in border communities. But the argument that has rarely been voiced is the one about the American government’s history of bullying South Texas – a community that most Texans don’t understand, much less politicos in Washington D.C.
Situated at the southernmost tip of the U.S., the Rio Grande Valley is as far South as you can go along the U.S. – Mexico border. Hearing people switch from English to Spanish in any given situation is as common as hearing a Seattleite order a double latte. South Texas is a place rich in culture, where the 4th of July is celebrated by parades with local high school Mariachi groups performing. This one simple celebration illustrates the fact that these communities are separated only by administrative borders.
But this community, rich in dual cultures, also has one of the highest rates of unemployment, with more sub-prime mortgage rates than anywhere else in the country. Another incident of bullying? Perhaps. Or, perhaps this is simply indicative an unyielding economy. But why then are there high incidences of children living in colonias suffering from hepatitis? Running water or electricity seems fundamental, but in these colonias, families make do without. In a life of the haves and the have nots, most South Texans have resigned to the fact that they are forgotten by their government and instead rely on one another. These South Texans know that their only support is within the community and with each other.
But now, with architectural blue prints in hand, the government remembers that the South Texans are there. They are walking onto their lands and into their homes with billions of dollars lining their pockets – but that money is not to help ease a hungry child’s cry, or a sick child’s need for medicine. Instead, this money is earmarked for a border wall in their neighborhoods and backyards. DHS insists on tearing apart these communities despite the many, repeated protests by so many South Texas residents.
Residents feel helpless. The eyesore of a wall separating sister communities seems inevitable unless legal challenges are successful. But most distressing is the unanswered question of what this wall will do to the existing communities on either side of the border. With a wall separating neighbors, it will slowly begin to erode the support systems that have for so long helped the ever-pervasive population of have nots.
Right now, it’s not looking good. The attack on immigrants and communities of immigrants must stop. It’s our border, let’s protect it.