South Texas landowner wins back family’s border properties but worries fight not over

Border Report Tour

'We can’t let our guard down just now"

Nayda Alvarez’ family owns 8-acres of riverfront borderlands on the Rio Grande in Starr County, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The recent dismissal of two federal lawsuits to take over Nayda Alvarez’s riverfront land for border wall construction should have left the 50-year-old teacher with joy and happiness.

Instead, she told Border Report that she is worried that the long border wall fight she endured under the Trump administration is not over, especially after reports that border barriers are still being built in the Rio Grande Valley region, albeit the federal government says they’re “guardrails.”

“I don’t believe it’s over,” Alvarez said this week via phone from her longtime family borderland properties in Starr County in deep South Texas. “They’re still building. Who says that ‘OK in a couple years let’s keep building it?’ Let’s manipulate the paperwork. It’s not a guardrail.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Customs and Border Protection told Border Report that current construction in the region is being done to the earthen border levees to shore up breaches caused during border wall construction during the Trump administration. Agency representatives said 6-foot bollards — instead of 18-feet metal bollards — are being erected on a concrete base that lines the earthen border levee to help prevent severe flooding.

“This remediation work does not involve expanding the border barrier,” CBP Public Affairs Officer Thomas Gresback told Border Report on Wednesday.

“These breaches have threatened local communities. DHS will start work to quickly repair the flood barrier system to protect border communities,” the Department of Homeland Security said in an April news release.

But environmentalists, and landowners like Alvarez, claim it’s a ruse to allow contractors to continue building on the Southwest border. And they are skeptical and fearful that construction along the border will not stop and future lands will be taken.

“Especially with landowners in the RGV, it seems like nobody has the answers. Nobody knows what they’re doing. The U.S. attorneys have no direction. It seems like a nightmare over there,” Laiken Jordahl, borderlands campaigner with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, which is based in Tucson, Arizona, told Border Report this week.

In April, another well-known RGV family, the Cavazos family, had all of its lands seized for border wall construction, further baffling residents and community leaders.

For the Alvarez family, during an Aug. 17 court hearing a judge dismissed the case against her grandfather’s property.

A case against her home — which has the words “NO BORDER WALL” painted in white on her roof — was dropped after too much time elapsed, she said.

Nayda Alvarez’s family has owned land on the Rio Grande in Starr County for decades. She fought to stop the federal government from taking over her family’s properties and painted the words “NO BORDER WALL” on her roof. She is seen on March 7, 2020 at her family’s property. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report file photos)

“So basically what happened was time ran out and it was over and done with,” Alvarez said.

The federal government had sued to condemn the land and take it to build a 30-foot-tall metal bollard border wall and for a 150-foot-wide border road and for additional border security measures, such as floodlights and infrared cameras and underground sensors.

It is uncertain whether DHS still intends to mount these devices, but border security appropriations currently pending in Congress for Fiscal 2022 call for a substantial increase in monies for virtual and other border technology, as well as for migrant care.

Jordahl said his organization is still fighting and monitoring to prevent floodlights from being installed in rural desert borderlands in Arizona, such as Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where several endangered species of bats live and could be harmed by excessive night lights.

Border Report toured the Alvarezes compound in the rural unincorporated enclave called La Rosita in early March 2020, just days before the coronavirus pandemic shut down most of the country.

With a population of maybe 300 in La Rosita, her home and that of her grandfather’s are treasured lands located on the banks of the fierce Rio Bravo, as she calls the river due to its dangerous currents. Her home is located halfway between the Starr County seat of Rio Grande City and the town of Roma in this rural county where almost every family knows one another.

Her grandfather bought her family’s 8 acres of riverfront lands decades ago. It is where she has lived her entire life. It’s where her family hides Easter eggs for the children to hunt on Easter morning, dove hunt, barbecue and sit and commune with nature in the soft grass in a clearing on the river banks.

Nayda Alvarez walks on a clearing near the Rio Grande on her family’s rural property in La Rosita, Texas, on March 7, 2020. Her family raises goats and other animals on their 8-acre borderlands. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photos)

She was an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump and even testified twice before Congress in Washington, D.C., against the building of a border wall. The last time she did was Feb. 27, 2020, before the House Committee on Homeland Security, just weeks before the pandemic struck.

When a condemnation suit was filed, lawyers with the Texas Civil Rights Project, a nonprofit organization based in the Rio Grande Valley, took over her case.

Now that the case appears to have a reprieve she says she is tired and drained and saddened by familial discourse that the cases brought between members of her own immediate family, and the community.

“It’s been hell but we can’t let our guard down just now,” she said. “Seriously, we gotta watch out for (Gov. Greg) Abbott. The chain-link fence he’s building over there in Del Rio. … And if there is a new administration and the next administration starts this whole thing over again.”

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