AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Through the emergency declaration and executive action, President Trump will potentially freeze some $6 billion to build hundreds more miles of barrier along the southern border. One of the first priorities for construction is the Rio Grande Valley of Texas where the majority of legal crossings now occur. As Reynaldo Leanos Jr. of Texas Public Radio reports, residents there have strong views about the barrier both pro and con.
REYNALDO LEANOS JR, BYLINE: Nayda Alvarez remembers the moment she opened up a letter from the federal government asking for permission to survey her land to build a border wall.
NAYDA ALVAREZ: You know, I've had, like, a stress headache ever since I got that letter.
LEANOS: That first letter came in September, a second one in November. A final one threatening legal action followed in January.
ALVAREZ: It's the uncertainty behind the letter or behind everything 'cause you ask questions, and they don't know when or where or how or what's going to happen.
LEANOS: Alvarez has not yet responded. Their surveying is generally the first step before the federal government offers to purchase the land. If the landowner doesn't want to sell, the federal government can sue using its power of eminent domain to take the land. Alvarez is exploring her legal options.
ALVAREZ: I have lived here all my life. This land belonged to my great grandparents since this area was part of Mexico. My parents and great grandparents have been here forever.
LEANOS: Alvarez lives in La Rosita, a small town along the Rio Grande. She's a high school speech teacher who lives next door to her parents. She's felt safe here all her life. And when she heard the president was declaring a national emergency, she said she almost had a heart attack.
ALVAREZ: This is about what is right and wrong, and a wall is not going to help anything. It's not going to work.
LEANOS: Alvarez said she's heard horror stories of what went on in 2008 when the federal government last seized land east of Starr County for the border wall. Gracie Garcia is also a lifelong Valley native.
GRACIE GARCIA: It's 10 years since they built this.
LEANOS: She lives along the Rio Grande closer to the city of Brownsville with her four children.
GARCIA: To this day, we haven't gotten paid for anything. We were told - supposedly they were going to pay the property amount of, you know, land they took.
LEANOS: She shows me the border wall that now looms over her backyard.
GARCIA: When I look at the wall, it's just like - to me, it's just, like, a waste of money. And I really don't understand why they went this way.
LEANOS: Like Alvarez, Garcia says she's never felt unsafe in her community. But Ruperto Cardenas, who lives about 90 miles west of Garcia, said it's definitely a national emergency. He's seeing people cross illegally onto his property from Mexico.
RUPERTO ESCOBAR: I've seen how freely people walk through here. That's a fact.
LEANOS: He's 75 years old and a farmer who owns about 600 acres of land. Cardenas hopes that the wall will reduce the flow of drugs even though most illegal drugs come through legal ports of entry. Cardenas is inviting the government to build the wall on his property.
ESCOBAR: Let's try something new. Let's try this wall 'cause for 75 years, nothing has worked. Maybe this will.
LEANOS: Back at La Rosita, Nayda Alvarez says she doesn't have the luxury of a 600-acre farm.
ALVAREZ: I'm not losing a piece of my land. I'm actually going to lose my house. What are we supposed to do? This is not America, or this is not the America that I know.
LEANOS: President Trump's national emergency declaration means that if it holds up, it's not just Starr County that will be dealing with these conflicts. The president wants to build or rebuild over 200 more miles of border fences. For NPR News, I'm Reynaldo Leanos Jr. in Starr County, Texas.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The audio of this story, as well as a previous web version, incorrectly identifies Ruperto Escobar as Ruperto Cardenas.]
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