Private border wall construction continues amid federal TRO

Construction continues on a privately-funded border wall, despite a signed temporary restraining order, on Monday, in Mission. (Photos by Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

MISSION — Workers wear safety vests as they dig from inside a trench; dirt is dug and moved onto loaders and backhoes, while several metal rebar piles are visible around a construction site.

A border wall is up, but it’s unclear if it’s officially on the ground since the structures are supported by several backhoes spaced a few feet apart and the bollards are going the wrong direction.

Regardless, border wall construction continues south of Mission despite temporary restraining orders granted in both state district and federal court.

Last Thursday, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order enjoining Fisher Industries, the organization We Build the Wall, and Neuhaus & Sons from continuing construction of a private stretch of border wall along the banks of the Rio Grande in an area near RGV–Bentsen State Park.

And just days before, on Dec. 3, state District Judge Librado “Keno” Vasquez granted a TRO against the group after the National Butterfly Center filed a separate suit in his court.

The federal suit — filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on behalf of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) — alleges that continued construction could “cause a shift of the Rio Grande river channel and, therefore, (cause) a shift of the international boundary line” in violation of an international treaty with Mexico, according to the complaint.

The treaty stipulates that both American and Mexican IBWC counterparts must analyze hydraulic models before any riverside construction can occur. Fisher Industries failed to provide a detailed report regarding the hydraulic impact their proposed bollard structure would have on the riverbank, IBWC claims.

The two documents Fisher Industries submitted to the IBWC in mid-November contained “very little substance and failed to show the extent of any hydraulic testing that may have been conducted,” the federal complaint reads.

Furthermore, the IBWC contends the group has “cleared over three miles of riverbank” down to the bare soil.

Just days after the federal TRO was granted, adjacent landowners noticed work continuing unabated on the private border wall construction.

“This is a place where we grew up at. I mean, this was a farm at one time,” said Reynaldo Anzaldua, whose family owns land along the river. “One of my uncles was a farmer and he’d gather all the nieces and nephews and we all harvested crops.”

While several family members own some of the property, Eloisa Cavazos owns most of it. Anzaldua, a cousin of the Cavazos family, noticed several signs that construction had continued over the weekend. Too, the pace of the work has led him to speculate the construction efforts continue through the night.

A small wooden fence with orange tops can be seen from the Cavazos’ property. By the fence lies a narrow trench lined with bent rebar.

“I was here yesterday morning, none of that was there,” Anzaldua said in regard to several rebar stacks. “They’re actually violating two court orders: a state court order and a federal court order and nobody is doing anything about it.”

“The governments are very slow to react.”

However, it’s unclear which company is behind the ongoing construction. 

According to the federal TRO, crews can “clear and grub, trench, place rebar and conduit in the trench and seed and plant on the subject property,” which is owned by Neuhaus & Sons.

They are enjoined, however, from “constructing a bollard structure, wall or similar structure, pouring concrete or any other permanent structure within the floodplain,” the court order reads. Nor can crews cut the riverbank.

Boats from both sides of the border drive through the river and create waves that hit the banks where the construction site is located. Anzaldua fears those wakes will lead to erosion.  “All that bank up there is going to be eroded just by this,” Anzaldua said. “Can you imagine what’s going to happen next time we have another major flood?”

Aside from the potential for land loss, Anzaldua worries detritus from the wall could end up on neighboring properties. “A lot of parts of the wall…we, as landowners, have to worry about stuff like that,” he said.

Meanwhile, a black, Ford truck could be seen parked near the edge of the construction site on the Neuhaus & Sons property. Anzaldua noted the truck appeared after he allowed a photographer to take photos. He feels it is monitoring the Cavazos’ property.

Public records show the truck, which bears Texas plates, is owned by a rental business located in Tulsa, Okla.

“I understand there’s some militia people there,” Anzaldua speculated. “If they are there, they’re not very nice people.”

Anzaldua expressed concerned at how quickly construction crews are getting the work done over the course of the past two days. He remains resolute in opposing border wall construction — any wall construction. “We’re going to be working to tear it down,” Anzaldua said. “I’m not talking about (the wall next door), I’m talking about the wall because it doesn’t make any sense. It’s not going to stop anything.”

Fisher Industries is expected in court Thursday, when they, along with the government will meet for a status hearing before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane.