On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) terminated all remaining border wall contracts for the Laredo Sector, saving 71 river miles in Webb and Zapata counties from destruction and more than $1 billion in taxpayer funds. This historic announcement ends a nearly three-year battle by people from all walks of life who formed the No Border Wall Coalition shortly after the Trump Administration announced a National Emergency declaration on the southern border in 2019, designed to fund a border wall. Today, DHS also cancelled all border wall contracts in the Rio Grande Valley Sector.
“This was a battle that went from the grassroots to the president’s desk, and it’s over. It’s finally over. We didn’t pick this fight. But we knew what was at stake and had to stop this unjust and terribly misguided project,” said Tricia Cortez, Rio Grande International Study Center executive director and Coalition co-founder. “We were told repeatedly that the wall was ‘a done deal.’ Now, the end of the wall is a ‘done deal.’ They underestimated Laredo.”
The Laredo coalition was composed of veterans, clergy, teachers, students, indigenous leaders, activists, artists, and landowners who joined together to oppose an ineffective political scheme that would have threatened the Rio Grande, our community’s only source of drinking water and put families in harm’s way. Today’s announcement follows on the heels of DHS’s July decision to cancel two of four Laredo Sector’s contracts that were “not necessary to address any life, safety, environmental or other remediation requirements as described in the DHS Border Wall Plan.”
In March 2019, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s plan to build the border wall on behalf of the Rio Grande International Study Center (RGISC), 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, and a number of local and national leaders representing affected communities. That case is still pending
“The people of Laredo sleep better today knowing that their river, culture, and property rights will be protected from a harmful, wasteful, and hateful border wall. Let the failure of this project serve as a lesson to leaders at every level of government when they seek to promote hate and destruction as they cater to right-wing extremists,” said Raul Garcia, Earthjustice attorney and legislative director for Healthy Communities. “We invite all of those who told us that the border wall in Laredo was inevitable — those who wanted us to give up the fight years ago because they thought we had already lost — to finally recognize the power and resilience of the people of Laredo. Viva el Rio.”
The Laredo contracts would have destroyed the historic Paso del Indio trail, countless parks and nature trails, parts of Laredo College, Sacred Heart Children’s Home, small businesses, private homes, countless family ranches, and many other iconic river sites.
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“This just goes to show: Never give up, even when the cards are stacked against you. When people come together to fight for justice and equality, you can win and we did,” said Elsa Hull, riverfront homeowner in San Ygnacio.
“Despite the mayor saying we would soon be begging for a wall or physical structure, the people of Laredo prevailed in shutting down this harmful and hateful border wall on our historic lands. It’s time for Laredo to focus on what matters, such as building bridges to strengthen our local economy which depends highly on the Mexican tourist; and bettering our infrastructure in order to remain as the number one inland port along the US-Mexico border. This historic victory will let us leave this dark chapter as a lesson on the resilience and power of our community,” said Laredo Councilmember Alberto Torres Jr.
“An assault on our historic homeland was finally turned back today. Once again, Laredoans rose up together to defeat those who would erase our cultural identity. It’s a great day!” said Margarita Araiza, executive director of the Webb County Heritage Foundation.
“Never underestimate the Power of everyday people to defend their culture, their lands, and their lives. With the cancellations of contracts in Laredo and the Valley, President Biden has rejected the failed and racist policies of the previous administration. The border wall in Texas threatened the only source of drinking water for Rio Grande communities with the construction of not only a destructive and mammoth bollard and concrete monstrosity, but with the clearing of a football field of riverside habitat for a ‘security zone’, an absolute environmental disaster that would endanger an already fragile and sensitive ecosystem,” said Melissa R. Cigarroa, No Border Wall Coalition co-founder and Zapata riverfront landowner.
“Since 2005 we have watched the tools our government put in place to protect us, most recently be used against us — to take our land, our heritage, our due process, and our history. But today we see a victory for us, which in turn shall be a victory for all,” said Christopher Rincon, director, River Pierce Foundation and steward of the historic Trevino-Uribe ranch in San Ygnacio.
“We’re encouraged by this recent announcement and continue to urge the Biden Administration and Congress to keep its promise and work to rectify our current immigration system to a more humane process for those seeking asylum and a pathway to citizenship,” said Karina Alvarez, Laredo Immigrant Alliance.
“The reality is protecting our borders is about technology, personnel and doing our jobs,” he said, calling the wall “outmoded and unnecessary.” “U.S. Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley and Laredo Sectors will now be able to utilize redirected funds for the deployment of innovative border security technology that helps DHS achieve operational control and provide situational awareness between the ports of entry. Nevertheless, we must continue fighting for Congress to cancel all remaining border wall contracts,” said U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar (TX-28).
“Hopefully, the attention that has been captured around the border wall has led to a greater appreciation and understanding for the Rio Grande near Laredo and that a silver lining will surface that will benefit the river and the folks that depend on it,” said Ben Masters, award-winning documentary filmmaker of “The River and the Wall.”
“In 2020, Zapata County stood up against Trump’s proposed border wall and filed suit to protect its public lands from condemnation. Today, Zapata County claims victory because it prevented the construction of a useless and wasteful border wall on its property and in its communities,” said Carlos E. Flores, attorney in the civil rights lawsuit against the federal waivers of Constitutional protections.
“Laredo Sector landowners have always supported, and continue to support, border security generally, but have steadfastly opposed the taking of their properties for the purpose of constructing a costly and ineffective border wall. Laredo Sector landowners look forward to continuing to work cooperatively with the present administration in developing more sensible and effective solutions to border security,” said Chuck Hedges, attorney on behalf of the Rio Grande Landowners Coalition.
“I’m proud of the people of Laredo. This victory demonstrates that fronterizos understand the border better than anyone and that we should trust their leadership on the opportunities and challenges they face,” said Beto O’Rourke, former congressman and founder of Powered X People.