LAREDO, TX -- Dozens of El Cenizo residents in southern Webb County attended an emergency town hall event Wednesday night expressing outrage over Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s move to fast-track the construction of a 30-foot steel border wall straight through their community at a cost of $361 million for 16 river miles.
The message for residents was clear. If approached by private contractors from companies such as Universal Field Services wanting to get an easement to your property: “Do not sign your land away!” Presenters highlighted the damage to property values if the wall gets built on or near their land.
“What they are not telling residents is that this wall will damage your land forever, as well as your neighbors’ land. No matter what they are offering, it’s less than what you will lose if the wall is built. There will be no legacy to leave for your children,” said El Cenizo Commissioner Daisy Perez.
Demand for Real solutions
Residents wanted to know why the state hadn’t met with them beforehand to get their input, and demanded that those hundreds of millions of state taxpayer dollars be re-directed toward real security solutions - such as demolishing abandoned buildings, and creating a much-needed and modern police force, solutions that are proven to be more effective and vastly less expensive.
Mayor Carina Hernandez, who was accompanied by the city’s two elected commissioners - Daisy Perez and Juany Valdez - opened the event and explained why the City opposes this destructive project. El Cenizo, like Rio Bravo and Laredo, are riverfront cities where the river has formed the cultural identity and social backbone of these South Texas border communities for generations.
A second emergency town hall will be held in Rio Bravo - a nearby incorporated city - on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023 at 6:30 pm at Rio Bravo City Hall, 1701 Centeno Lane, 78046.
Why the secrecy?
Numerous requests for information about the wall’s path have been made to the Texas Facilities Commission Executive Director Michael Novack and the newly appointed “border czar” Michael Banks, who visited Laredo on Wednesday, too.
To date, no plans have been shared with the public, the media, local mayors, congressional representatives, or those property owners who would be directly impacted, despite private contractors already moving forward with aspects of the project.
“This is about big money going to a few contractors who have given hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Gov. Abbott,” said Tricia Cortez, No Border Wall Coalition member. “This isn’t about real border policy. This is about raw politics, designed to benefit someone in Austin at the expense of the people who live here, which will destroy their properties and remove their access to our river, forever. This is about hurting people who have been given no voice at the governor’s table.”
Shellee Laurent, an artist whose family has lived in El Cenizo and Rio Bravo for decades, agreed:
“Why all the secrecy? Why do out-of-state private contractors have full access to all the plans, yet families who are directly threatened by the wall’s path are being left totally in the dark?” Laurent said. “It seems like they are trying to protect these lucrative contracts at the expense of property owners, and do an end run around our elected officials.”
In January 2023, the state awarded two contracts to North Dakota-based Fisher Sand & Gravel ($224 million, 9 miles) and Galveston-based SLSCO ($137 million, 6.6 miles) for Webb and Zapata counties.
The #NoBorderWall Laredo Coalition is a network of residents, elected officials, and organizations who oppose the border wall.
Website: facebook.com/NoBorderWallCoalition | Insta: @noborderwall_ltx
Photos courtesy: Jesse Herrera, Francisco Mendoza