by Javier Sierra
Ray Anzaldúa never crossed the border. The border crossed him. His family has been living in what is today South Texas since circa 1750, decades before the United States of America was even established.
Ever since, they have been constantly losing land. And now, because of Donald Trump’s obsession with building his medieval wall, those losses have intensified.
“We have always been treated very much like a conquered people,” says Anzaldúa. “In the past few years, whatever land we have left, they have been trying to get that as well.”
“You can’t really separate environmental justice and social and racial justice. The wall is going up and stealing land from communities of color and Indigenous communities and then separating them from friends and family.”
Practically all the land he and his family still own is located on the edge of the border. Just like the rest of landowners there, they are at the mercy of an administration hell-bent on building the wall. According to Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican who represents the largest border district, more than 1,000 Texan landowners are in danger of getting their lands confiscated by the administration.
“We have already denied entry to them,” Anzaldúa says. “They took us to Federal Court, the judge ordered that they can trespass on our lands and they have already done the surveys without our permission.”
Trump has already warned them: “If we can’t make a deal, we’ll take the land.” This “thievery,” as Anzaldua calls it, is based on eminent domain laws, under which the government forces the sale of private land for public works. On the border, however, the amount of money the landowners get from the government is laughable.
“We went to court after they offered us $100 per acre of taken land, which is nothing,” he says. “But all this will probably be for nothing. Because of all the laws that the government has waived, we have very little recourse in court.”
Under the REAL ID Law, passed by Congress in 2005, the administration has waived dozens of laws to build the wall. These include the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, adding up to a total of 48 statutes.
“In my opinion, they are probably violating part of the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution because they are not giving us due process and we are not getting equal protection under the law. Is it because we are Hispanic?” wonders Anzaldúa, a veteran who served honorably in Vietnam.
This atmosphere of injustice is accentuated by the growing militarization of the border. A group of veterans belonging to the Sierra Club’s Military Outdoors Program recently visited the region to witness first hand the effects of Trump’s immigration policy and his illegal national emergency.
“I know how easy it is to over-exaggerate with such an emotionally charged subject,” says Rob Vessels, senior Military Outdoors campaign representative and a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “But it’s definitely militarized down there. Border Patrol had better weapons and personal equipment than I had in Afghanistan, which was kind of infuriating.”
Vessels, who finds his direct contact with nature therapeutic in his transition from combat duty to civilian life, expresses his indignation for the land grab taking place at the border.
“You can’t really separate environmental justice and social and racial justice,” he says. “The wall is going up and stealing land from communities of color and Indigenous communities and then separating them from friends and family.”
Anzaldúa, on his part, is well aware of the terrible unfairness of this fight. But his determination is unwavering.
“The chances of winning are very, very slim,” he acknowledges. “Yet we are doing this because we are stubborn. And we are telling the government, even if we lose, we are going to fight you!”
And we will support you!
Javier Sierra is a Columnist with the Sierra Club, @javier_SC.
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