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New Lawsuit Challenging Trump Declaration of National Emergency: Wall “Threatens to Desecrate Graves and Spiritual Ancestor Sites”

Earthjustice files lawsuit on behalf of border families, communities, leaders following bipartisan Congressional rebuke of president’s unconstitutional action
Mr. and Mrs. Villarreal tending the grounds at the Eli Jackson Ranch Church and Cemetery.

Mr. and Mrs. Paul Villarreal, Sr., tending to the grounds at the Eli Jackson Ranch Church and Cemetery. Mrs. Villarreal is a direct descendant of Eli Jackson. The Eli Jackson Ranch Church and Cemetery in Texas is at risk of being exhumed and desecrated by the Trump administrations’s border wall.

Photo courtesy of Sylvia Ramirez
March 14, 2019
San Juan, TX —

A new lawsuit filed on the heels of broad, bipartisan House and Senate rejection of the president’s attempt to declare a state of national emergency to build additional miles of border wall alleges that the wall would have “real and dire impacts for communities living along the border,” including potential exhumation and desecration of border families’ loved ones’ remains at the 154-year-old Eli Jackson Cemetery and the 145-year old Jackson Ranch Church and Cemetery in Texas.

Map of San Juan, Texas.

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Ramirez family of San Juan, Texas, who own the property where the Jackson Ranch Cemetery is located, the Carrizo / Comecrudo Nation of Texas, whose ancestors inhabited the Rio Grande Valley for centuries and whose sacred cultural and burial sites would be threatened by new sections of President Trump’s border wall targeted for construction, Elsa Hull, a landowner on the border, the Rio Grande International Study Center (RGISC) and a number of local and national leaders representing affected communities.

Paul Villarreal, Jr., and his mother in the interior of the Jackson Ranch church, during a worker appreciation luncheon at Jackson Ranch Cemetery. One of the tribal members' children is at the piano.
Photo courtesy of Sylvia Ramirez
Paul Villarreal, Jr., and his mother in the Jackson Ranch Church, during a worker appreciation luncheon at Jackson Ranch Cemetery. One of the tribal members' children is at the piano.

The Rio Grande binds two countries and cultures and is the only source of drinking water for an estimated six million people. Its beautiful landscape serves as a critical wildlife corridor that supports hundreds of species of plants and animals. Experts warn that President Trump’s border wall would destroy ecosystems and cause significant harms to public health in the region.

“President Trump’s so-called border ‘emergency’ would make it harder for our family, our children, and our children’s children to visit our loved ones’ final resting places,” said Dr. Ramiro Ramirez, the representative for the Ramirez family in the lawsuit. “For months now, we’ve lived with the uncertainty of what might happen to our historical family church, our cemeteries, and the land we’ve lived on for generations. Enough is enough.”

“We don’t own the land on the border; the land on the border owns us,” said Juan Mancias of the Carrizo / Comecrudo Nation of Texas. “It is a part of us to live as our ancestors lived — the border wall would sever our connection to them. Our Nation is proud to join this lawsuit, and take a stand for our home.”

A banner near the Eli Jackson Cemetery.
Photo courtesy of Sylvia Ramirez
A banner near the Eli Jackson Cemetery.

“For about 15 years, my family and I have lived peacefully in our home along the Rio Grande,” said Elsa Hull. “Our memories are intertwined with the life and vitality of the river, the land, the trees, and the border community. I cannot imagine having a border wall rip through our community, endanger my property, my home, and the life my family has created here along the Rio Grande. There is no national emergency on the border, and we have joined this lawsuit because we are going to defend our home, our land, and our way of life from these political stunts.”

“We view this declaration as an imminent threat to our identity and our way of life,” said Tricia Cortez, Executive Director of the Rio Grande International Study Center. “The president’s declaration of a national emergency paints Laredo and other border communities as lawless wastelands, when the truth is that we live in one of the safest and most economically dynamic cities in the country.”

“The President’s abuse of emergency powers to override the will of Congress is a blatant power grab,” said Sarah Burt, lead attorney for Earthjustice on the case. “It not only goes against our basic form of government, but also harms those who live, work and worship along the border. We’re going to court to stand up for these communities.”

“We are witnessing Trump’s ridiculous attempt to manufacture a crisis where it does not exist,” said Hector Sanchez Barba, LCLAA Executive Director. “Our nation deserves better than an immoral wall built on the pretext of a delusional and manufactured crisis. We call on Congress to act now, unite and override a potential veto.”

“We reject President Trump’s manufactured national crisis that displaces border families, destroys wildlife habitat and refuge, and disregards environmental protection laws along border communities,” said Mark Magaña, President and CEO of GreenLatinos. “We are honored to stand together with local landowners, local tribe representatives, and other organizations to file suit challenging the legal standing of President Trump’s Emergency Declaration and thankful to Earthjustice for representing a coalition of national and local voices from our thriving southern border communities.”

Read the full text of the complaint.

An archival photo from unknown date of the Eli Jackson Cemetery.
Photo courtesy of Sylvia Ramirez
An archival photo from unknown date of the Eli Jackson Cemetery.
County historical marker at Jackson Ranch Cemetery (located on same property as the church). Note that the church has the Texas Historical marker for this property.
Photo courtesy of Sylvia Ramirez
The county historical marker at Jackson Ranch Cemetery, located on same property as the church. The church has the Texas Historical marker for this property.

Contacts

Raul Garcia, Earthjustice, (202) 797-5251

Sarah Burt, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2055

Sylvia Ramirez, Ramirez family, (956) 373-0762

Juan Mancias, Carrizo / Comecrudo Nation of Texas, (830) 391-7992

Tricia Cortez, Rio Grande International Study Center, (956) 718-1063

Hector Sanchez, LCLAA, (202) 508-6919

Mark Magaña, GreenLatinos, (202) 230-2070

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