Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with comments from Pharr’s mayor saying the bollards are not located on city-owned property and reaffirming the city’s promise to not contribute to wall construction.
PHARR, Texas (Border Report) — Dozens of border wall opponents took part in a mock funeral procession through South Texas Sunday afternoon. They followed a fake hearse and empty coffin that they said represented the thousands who have died from coronavirus in the Rio Grande Valley and who they believe could have been helped if that money was spent on healthcare instead of border wall construction.
The line of vehicles stretched for blocks. Many hung black flowers on their vehicles and wrote anti-border wall sentiment on their windows as they made the seven-mile trek from downtown Pharr to a historic chapel and cemetery on the border that used to help free black slaves, and now stands just feet from where the border wall is being built
The federal government is planning wall construction here as part of an effort to fill in the areas between existing wall segments. Border Patrol reports this Rio Grande Valley sector has the most migrant apprehensions on the southwest border.
Ramiro Ramirez’ great-great grandfather is buried at the Jackson Ranch Cemetery and he said that the construction just 100 feet behind the property is disturbing to his ancestors. It also will cut off the historic Jackson Ranch Chapel, which was built in 1874 and is the first Protestant church in the area. That church was a staging ground for the Underground Railroad and a place where black slaves went to escape south into Mexico.
“This is family but it also represents a historic monument,” Ramirez told Border Report, sitting on a bench in front of tombstones where his ancestors are buried. “This is an area where everyone was able to benefit: the poor, the sick, the orphaned and the oppressed and this is an area where a lot of people have united against this wall.”
Congress has mandated that the border wall not cut through the chapel of Jackson Cemetery, but those gathered on Sunday afternoon under the shade of the mesquite and ash trees blowing in the Gulf breezes said this area as a whole should not be cut off from the rest of the Rio Grande Valley by a 30-foot-tall metal bollard wall.
“People in our community are dying and yet millions and billions of dollars are being spent on that racist, divisive border wall and it just breaks my heart,” Danny Diaz, of the nonprofit group La Unión Del Pueblo Entero, told a crowd of about 50 people who gathered at the Chapel after the mock funeral procession.
Diaz said he was among the over 61,500 people in the Rio Grande Valley who contracted COVID-19 and struggled to receive appropriate health care. Diaz said he suffered for several days at home “with stabbing pains” until he finally went to an urgent care facility. He did not have health insurance and said he was “finally so sick” that he just went anyway. “I wonder how many other people in the Rio Grande Valley suffered and died at home because they didn’t have health insurance or access to care,” Diaz said.
“It just shows to the broken system that we have and instead of investing in our people to survive this unprecedented virus crisis here in South Texas they decided to try to focus on the border wall and divide our communities,” Diaz said.
Instead of investing in our people to survive this unprecedented virus crisis here in South Texas they decided to try to focus on the border wall and divide our communities.”Danny Diaz of La Unión Del Pueblo Entero and a COVID-19 survivor
Over 3,000 people in the Rio Grande Valley have died from COVID-19. Hidalgo County, which includes this area, has had over 1,841 deaths — the second-most deaths from coronavirus of any county in the state, according to Texas Health and Human Services records.
About 50 people gathered at Jackson Ranch Cemetery and Chapel on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, to hold a mock funeral service protesting the construction of the border wall just 100 feet behind the historic chapel, which was built in 1874 south of Pharr, Texas (Border Report Photos/Sandra Sanchez)
Sunday’s event began near downtown Pharr where the company that is constructing the border wall has a staging area for the metal bollards. Group organizers read a proclamation issued by the Pharr City Commission three years ago saying it would not aid the federal government’s building of a border wall. They then put the proclamation into the fake casket and drove it to the chapel where there were chairs put on the grass and musicians and speakers in an outdoor arena.
“We’re honoring the 3,000 people in the Valley who have died of COVID,” Pérez said. “We honor the dead because instead of wasting billions of dollars on the wall they should be spending it on the health of the community.”
Texas Civil Rights Project Communications Director Zenén Jaimes Pérez told Border Report on Sunday that the bollards were being staged on city-owned lands, and they felt this was a violation of the city’s resolution. That’s part of the reason organizers said they included the resolution in the casket.
But Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez on Monday told Border Report that those lands “are 100% privately owned” and not city property at all. “What are you talking about? It’s private property. It’s not city property,” he said when he learned about the event. He also said the city remained committed to its resolution that it would not help construct the wall.
On Monday, Pérez admitted he spoke in error, telling Border Report in a phone conversation, “I made a mistake. I said it was city property.”
This was one of the first anti-border wall events held in the Rio Grande Valley since the coronavirus pandemic began in March. Several events have been held in Laredo, about three hours to the west, sponsored by the Laredo No Border Wall Coalition, but this is the first time the community here has galvanized its forces since the virus struck the region so hard.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.