Landowners Fight Border Wall Construction In Texas' Rio Grande Valley A decade ago, dozens of Texas landowners fought the federal government's efforts to build a wall on their land. Those battles are beginning again as new walls are planned for the Rio Grande Valley.
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Rio Grande Valley Landowners Plan To Fight Border Wall Expansion

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Rio Grande Valley Landowners Plan To Fight Border Wall Expansion

Rio Grande Valley Landowners Plan To Fight Border Wall Expansion

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump has vetoed the congressional attempt to block his national emergency declaration, but that is not the end of that story. It goes to the courts next. In Texas' Rio Grande Valley, hundreds of landowners have received letters from the federal government asking to survey their land for border wall construction. Here's Texas Public Radio's Reynaldo Leanos Jr.

REYNALDO LEANOS JR, BYLINE: Eloisa Tamez lives in El Calaboz, a small town outside of Brownsville. She received a life-changing phone call at work back in 2007.

ELOISA TAMEZ: I was notified by two border patrolmen that, did I know that my property was in the path of the planned construction of the border wall?

LEANOS: The government wanted permission to access her land to survey it, but she refused. So they took her to court, where her case dragged on for months. But eventually, she lost her case.

TAMEZ: Within 24 hours after he gave the order, they build that.

LEANOS: That, meaning the wall behind her property. Next came the battle for compensation. The government originally lowballed her. She sued for more.

TAMEZ: The settlement that I got, which was $56,000, and I converted some of that for scholarships for graduate nursing students.

LEANOS: Tamez says she didn't want the money and just wanted her land, without a wall. Tamez's experiences in dealing with the government back then are similar to what other landowners went through - they fought, they lost, the wall was built. Now it seems like those legal skirmishes will begin again. Efren Olivares of the Texas Civil Rights Project says this time around, it seems more people will be impacted, but he's hopeful more residents now know their rights.

EFREN OLIVARES: What happened last time, which was a lot of people didn't know they didn't have to accept the first offer, so they signed without knowing that they were giving up their rights.

LEANOS: Landowners in the Rio Grande Valley should know, Olivares says, that the courts can weigh in on the surveying and the compensation amounts. In this latest effort to extend the wall, Congress has required the federal government to meet with local officials to discuss design and alignment of the wall. In Starr County, Roma Mayor Roberto Salinas met with local Border Patrol officials three weeks ago to try and negotiate on behalf of his community.

ROBERTO SALINAS: Right now what's planned below right here in the center of town is an 18-foot steel fence. We think that would be a detriment to tourism, and instead, what we would like to see is something more like a concrete barrier built with some decorative fencing on top of it that would enhance tourism.

LEANOS: Salinas says the Border Patrol were receptive, but there's no official contract. Mayor Salinas says he sees both sides of the wall debate.

SALINAS: Border Patrol and Homeland Security say they need the fence in order to do their jobs. And if they say they need it, I think we should comply and give them what they need.

LEANOS: The mayor says border officials assured him no homes would be displaced during the construction of a new border wall. But he's skeptical because they've walked back commitments in the past.

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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (A character, speaking Spanish).

LEANOS: Ninety-year-old Elvira Canales lives in Salineno, about a 15-minute drive west of Roma. She recently talked to the Army Corps of Engineers about an upcoming road construction project near her property by the Rio Grande. Canales says she'll take legal action if the government tries to take her land for the road or the proposed wall.

ELVIRA CANALES: I won't sell it, or I won't give permission because it's my property for, I mean, generations and generations.

LEANOS: The Canales family has not yet received an official letter from the government asking for permission to survey their land. Border wall construction is expected to begin later this year in Starr County. For NPR News, I'm Reynaldo Leanos Jr.

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