Friday, April 17, 2009

Path of the border wall cuts off land grant heir’s property

New Mexico Independent
April 17, 2009
by Marjorie Childress

ALBUQUERQUE — Even though Dr. Eloisa Tamez calls Texas home, she was in New Mexico Thursday afternoon when she got some unwanted news.

In the name of border security, the federal government served her condemnation papers on part of the border-land that’s been in her family for generations.Tamez, who was in town for an academic conference, told NMI that her attorneys emailed her about the condemnation order earlier in the day.

As President Obama traveled to Mexico this week, many folks were focusing on hotly debated security threats coming from Mexico. But the Tamez case illustrated to others why New Mexicans ought to be paying as close attention to what’s happening just across the border in Texas by the U.S. government itself.

Tamez, a University of Texas at Brownsville professor of nursing, owns three acres of land in El Calaboz, Texas, “just up the river” from Brownsville. The property is a remnant of what her family once owned — but one that has a lot of meaning for her.

What many may not realize is that in Texas the federal government is using eminent domain powers to take private property of U.S. citizens north of the border in order to build the so-called border wall, often effectively cutting property owners off from their land south of the newly constructed wall.

The massive wall being constructed along the U.S./Mexico border does not sit on the actual border, which in Texas is the Rio Grande.

Tamez’s land was once part of the San Pedro de Carricitos Land Grant, created by the King of Spain in 1767. While it was handed down to Tamez through many generations, her heritage on the land actually predates even the land grant, she explained. Tamez’s ancestors include tribal members of the indigenous Lipan Apache.

And now, the federal government wants to cut her off from most of her land.

That’s because her property sits square in the path of the authorized border wall. Tamez has been fighting the efforts of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to condemn and bisect her land with the wall since 2007 — one of the last hold-outs in her community.

She’s tried to meet the government half way, she said, offering to replace a barbed wire fence on her property with a 10-foot wall. And she’s asked for an opening in the wall that would allow her to access what would be over half of her land south of the wall. She said she hasn’t received a response from the government.

While government officials have told Tamez that the wall will only take a quarter of an acre of her land, she said, Tamez totals the loss much higher — more than half of the land will be gone because there will be no access to it. Nor will it be worth much on the market if she’s forced to sell, she added.

And, as she learned yesterday, time is running out. She was in Albuquerque to give a presentation on the very topic Thursday at the Western Social Sciences Association Conference at the University of New Mexico. That is when she learned she had been served with the condemnation notice by the feds.

When it comes to the land condemnations in Texas, maps of the location of the new walls show them running through many lower-income, Mexican American communities, Tamez said.

This is easily seen on the ground as well, she said, with the wall stopping at wealthy resorts with golf courses.

“They choose our communities because immigrants blend in,” she said. “But that’s stereotyping and discriminatory. Not to mention, un-American.”

Tamez said she had hoped things would be different with President Obama, but that’s not been the case so far.

“They talk about cultural sensitivity, but have ignored us and continued to move forward with the contracts to build the wall,” she elaborated.

“I’m appalled that the president right away said this country would stop the torture and close Guantanamo. But what does he call what’s happening to us? Do we not count?”

Other participants at the WSSA Conference, when hearing about the condemnation notice delivered to Tamez, said New Mexicans should sit up and take notice.

Cynthia Bejaranos, a professor of criminal justice at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, said the land condemnations in Texas are a trend in the “de-constitutionalization” of border communities.

“I’m a fourth generation U.S. citizen who grew up in Anthony, and have been a resident of the border region my entire life,” she told NMI. “The institutional law enforcement presence with associated police tactics and surveillance has grown massively, with serious implications for the human rights of our Mexican-American communities.”

“I have to go through a checkpoint every time I leave Las Cruces, in any direction,” she continued. “These measures are in the name of border security, but over the past 20 years I’ve seen little to warrant it. And this condemnation of private land in other parts of the southwest are part of the trend — many of us wonder if it’s the next thing we’ll have to deal with.”

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