South Texan fears border wall will cut off family from riverfront property, ruin their way of life

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LA ROSITA, Texas (Border Report) — The roof on Nayda Alvarez’ rural South Texas home bears a message to President Donald Trump she hopes he will see if he ever returns to South Texas: “NO BORDER WALL.”

She painted the big white block letters in the summer of 2015 right before Trump, then a presidential candidate, flew into Laredo about 100 miles northwest of here.

She is unsure whether he saw it from the air. Nevertheless, the outspoken 48-year-old high school teacher whose family for generations has owned acres on the Rio Grande in rural Starr County, said she will use every method within her budget to let others know how building a border wall through her family’s homelands will destroy not only their houses but their culture and their way of life.

Nayda Alvarez on March 7, 2020, points to features of her land that has been in her family for generations in South Texas in La Rosita, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

On Saturday, she gave Border Report a tour of their property and the tranquil Rio Grande that is her backyard. Putting a pedal to the metal in her open-air off-road Mule, she whipped through dirt trails past ancient mesquite trees and giant prickly pear cactus, and zipped down steep crevasses where she says Hurricane Dolly in 2008 left much of the land underwater as the Rio Grande filled the U-shaped basin.

This unincorporated area is known as La Rosita and has a population of maybe 300. It is an area halfway between the county seat of Rio Grande City and the town of Roma, and the entire town is visible from one end of the river’s embankment to the other.

The Rio Grande is only about 200-meters wide at this point, but it’s deep and dark here and full of bass and gar. The section of Mexico across from her home is rural farmland and the gentle cooing of doves can always be heard, except for when noisy Border Patrol boats pass by, she says.

Locals call the river the Rio Bravo, because it is “mean” with a top current that goes one direction and a dangerous undercurrent that swirls the other, she says as she peers over the riverbank.

Alvarez’s family owns 8 acres of riverfront land, which her grandfather bought decades ago. She has lived here her entire life. Her house is next to her grandparents’ house, her dad’s house is adjacent. Her grandfather is long gone, and her mother passed away last year, but this remains a place where her three young grandchildren come to play and where her family visits and barbecues and enjoys the cool river breeze.

Now a border wall is threatening what she says is their livelihood.

Last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced it had awarded a $179 million contract to a New Mexico company to build 15 miles of border wall through Starr County. The entire 52 miles of the county, from end to end, are supposed to be walled off, according to CBP.

Read a Border Report story on reaction to the border wall announcement.

But the majority of land in Starr County is privately owned, like Alvarez’s, and will require the government to purchase most of the needed property. Already surveyors have been spotted throughout the county, residents say. Alvarez claims some went onto her property while she was testifying before Congress late last month to urge lawmakers not to back the border wall.

She drives her Mule past two wooden stakes, one of which has a bright pink ribbon atop it. She said it was not there before she left for Washington, D.C.

“They’re supposed to come in and let you know they’re going to come into your property, which they didn’t,” Alvarez told Border Report as she stood on the soft soil and the grassy, green banks that her family keeps clean and mowed and are an inviting oasis amidst a shoreline of thick rugged brush.

During her Feb. 27 testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security, Alvarez told lawmakers: “I have lived on this land for 40 years alongside where my grandfather lives. I worry about my father’s health once our land is taken. This land is where my daughters were raised and where I see my grandchildren.”

I can’t go buy a property somewhere else and it be what I have right now. I’m going to lose my access to the river. I’m going to lose our customs.”

Nayda Alvarez of La Rosita, Texas

She said she feels her privacy has been violated and her rights as an American citizen encroached upon as surveillance Aerostat blimps hover above, and a Border Patrol watchtower is stationed just downriver, visible from her property. She said she has found surveillance cameras tacked on to trees on her property. And there are gaps in her wire fence where she says trespassers have come through.

Next to her property, a line of wooden stakes with pink ribbons can be seen cutting across the area, set well back from the river and close to Alvarez’ house.

What scares her most is the 150-foot-wide enforcement zone that is supposed to be built alongside the border wall, which could take out her house, given the juxtaposition of the nearby stakes. This zone is to include an all-weather road, floodlights, underground sensors and cameras.

The exact location for the border barrier has not been revealed by CBP, which last week confirmed to Border Report that local community leaders in Starr County still have an opportunity to work with the contractor to determine size and structure plans for the border wall here.

Read a Border Report story on how Starr County officials might be able to still dictate border wall terms

Alvarez said Border Patrol has promised they would build a million-dollar gate for her family to access the area, but she doesn’t believe them.

And so she has steadfastly refused their requests to survey the land. She is being sued by the federal government for eminent domain and has an April 14 court appearance scheduled in federal court in McAllen.

“The government is not being transparent. Yet they just awarded a contract in Starr County. We don’t know whose land is going to be affected with that contract. And how can you accept a contract if you don’t have the plans to build things?” Alvarez said.

Nayda Alvarez testified before Congress on Feb. 27. She is seen on March 7, 2020, at her family’s lands on the Rio Grande in La Rosita, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

The nonprofit Texas Civil Rights Project announced her Feb. 27 testimony, which was the second time she has gone before lawmakers in Washington, D.C. The first was a year ago when she tried to tell a different committee that this area is not lawless or in need of militarization.

Now she says she has become the subject of social media threats. And within her own family there are divisions with some relatives who are urging her to take a buyout and split the money.

“Some people say, ‘Oh, you’re going to get paid for it.’ But it’s not about the money. I can’t go buy a property somewhere else and it be what I have right now. I’m going to lose my access to the river. I’m going to lose our customs and mind you, over what? A campaign promise. That’s the way I see it,” Alvarez said. “What are we going to leave our kids? Our great-grandkids?”

Border Patrol officials say Starr County is the No. 1 area for seizures of marijuana and narcotics, and second in the apprehension of migrants to the Rio Grande Valley communities of Mission, McAllen and Brownsville, farther east.

“RGV is the busiest Sector in the nation and, for the (fiscal year) to date, accounts for approximately 25% of the illegal alien apprehensions and ranks first in seized cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana along the southwest border. The majority of its activity is occurring in areas where RGV has limited infrastructure, access and mobility, and technology,” CBP officials said in a recent news release.

Alvarez says her area is being unfairly characterized. And she takes exception to recent Border Patrol media releases that prompt news stories in Starr County on the dangers of living there.

“I really love it when people who are not going to be affected and have the biggest mouths and comment. They need to get their information straight before they comment and put us down, the ones who are going to be affected,” she said.

“I have stopped talking to some people. I have been criticized, laughed at. But hey, I’m not the one who’s going to pay for this. They are. Their kids are. Their grandkids and their grandkids’ grandkids are going to be paying for all the money spent on this wall.”

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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