My short story on this for FSRN is here. Image from the Associated Press.
I spoke earlier today by phone to Dr. Eloisa Tamez, who owns a tract of property on the Texas-Mexico border and has been fighting the government’s attempt to construct a wall on it for over a year. She is a member of the Lipan Apache tribe and her family has owned the land for several centuries. Federal judge Andrew Hanen ruled in March that the Department of Homeland Security must negotiate with landowners before property can be seized, but yesterday he ordered Tamez to allow DHS to start construction on her land.
Dr. Tamez told me that she is disappointed with the ruling and will continue speaking out. She said she has seen nothing to indicate President Obama will change the border wall policy – especially since wall construction is providing jobs in the area. Tamez believes she can still appeal the ruling, but says Homeland Security contractors have already been trespassing on areas of her land.
Here’s a complete transcript of my interview with her (I’ve added emphasis in certain places).
Mediahacker: Dr. Tamez, could you just share with me your reaction to the ruling yesterday?
Tamez: Well, of course I was very saddened by it but my lawyers worked very hard to respond to every motion that was set forth by the government. And we worked hard at finding out a different result, so I guess in that respect we had exhausted all possible answers to whatever the goverment was claiming. So I have a lot of respect for Judge Hanen. I think that he has given us, here in South Texas the landowners here in El Calaboz, many opportunities to be heard. And for that I am grateful, to see that there are some judges and especially Judge Hanen, who uphold the Constitution. So I’m proud of that.
Other than that I think that the whole situation started out as a political thing, and it’s still a political thing. Because currently if President Obama and Secretary Napolitano were to put a stop to this, that would mean canceling contracts, jobs for those who are working with the contractors, and that would that wouldn’t be [inaudible] for President Obama, who is claiming to want to create jobs – that’s one of his priorities. So again, some of us have to suffer continually for corporations and also at the hands of our own government for political reasons.
Mediahacker: So do you have any appeals left available to you in the process, or not at this point?
Tamez: I believe that there is an opportunity for appeal. We have not been told that there is not one. I don’t know at this point. We’re talking about our options, I don’t know which direction we’re going to go. I know that we will concentrate on using our energies to think about what we will discuss when we sit down and negotiate, because Judge Hanen has presented us with a very nicely written paragraph an opportunity to sit down and discuss various factors that are of importance, before the government comes in and takes my land. So we want to work on that and make sure that we have a good chance to be heard as we sit down through that process.
Mediahacker: In March Judge Hanen ruled that DHS needed to negotiate with you and other landowners. I guess I’m wondering, is it his position or his ruling that those negotiations effectively took place already or is that still going to happen?
Tamez: We still have some things to work out, for example the fair market value of the land they want. And so the hearing is still set for that to take place in October. It’s been rolled up to October because we were not able to find appraisers for our land. We couldn’t hire anybody, the government had apparently contracted all the ones available in the valley. So it was difficult to come up with some answers when we couldn’t get an appraiser to do the job for us. When the hearing, the trial that takes place in October, is to look at the compensation, from what I understand from the document from the judge.
Mediahacker: What are your plans in the near-term? This ruling allows DHS to start building effective immediately, I guess. What are you going to do from here? I know that you have been trying to resist this for a long time.
Tamez: I’m going to continue to speak out and tell the story. And continue to be the voice of the people in the El Calaboz area. Because even some of those people who signed the waiver are talking about the process and from their stories they were pretty much forced into making a decision and threatened to turn over their property to the government. There were varying amounts of compensation given to them for what appear to be equal amounts of land. So the story will continue. And we will continue to talk about it so that more and more people will learn about the injustices that low-income people face as opposed to those on the path of the wall that didn’t even have a wall built because they just happen to be [inaudible], a resort or maybe a plantation owner or [inaudible]. Those who are fortunate enough to have those kinds of resources don’t get a wall as opposed to low-income Mexican Americans living in communities – yeah, we get the wall. So I will continue to talk about that. They ain’t gonna stop me. They can build this wall but they’re not going to take my voice away.
Mediahacker: And can you real briefly summarize what this is physically going to do your tract of property in terms of the environment and vegetation, and also your quality of life?
Tamez: That’s really what’s interesting is that we still don’t have the very specific answers from the government on where they plan to build it or what’s going to look like or anything like that. They have failed in their explanations, even though they were ordered by the court, they have failed. So that’s what needs to be clarified. As for [inaudible] plant life and animal life? Yes! I’ve been going there where they’re building the wall all around me and I see some of the wildlife escaping from the area. I see a lot of the plant life just totally crushed and scooped out. And many of the plants in those grounds are plants that we use for medicinal purposes. And so they’re completely scraped away…
Mediahacker: I know that you met Barack Obama while he was campaigning. Have you seen any changes in terms of DHS policy since his taking office and do you hold out any hope that him and the new Homeland Security Secretary will change plans at all?
Tamez: I see no change. I’ve seen no comment on it. I don’t know what the plans are, because, well, they haven’t said much. So I’m still wondering what we’re going to see. And I still remember that he voted for the wall when he was a Senator. He voted for it. And I also know that all the counties except two, along the river, went Democrat. Now, if the Democrats want to see Texas become blue, they had better pay attention to the political power that we can have when we start mobilizing.
Mediahacker: As a member of the Lipan Apache tribe, how do you feel, again, to have the federal government encroaching on your land?
Tamez: Well once again, it’s losing land to the government but this time it’s even more distressing because some of the plant life that we depend on for medicinal purposes is being eviscerated from the property. You know, DHS said they have no interest in the south part of my property, but you should see what they’ve done to it. If they have no interest then why are they trespassing?