The Wall


The Texas Observer has covered the expansion of the Texas-Mexico border wall for more than a decade. As property owners’ rights have been gobbled up, cameras have been planted by federal agents in wildlife refuges and ecological damage inflicted by the wall’s footprint, we’ve never stopped reporting. And we’ll continue to report — that’s what we do. Catch up with a curated selection of our border wall coverage below.


Back to the Wall

Children from both sides of the Rio Grande come together during Laredo’s 2020 celebration of George Washington’s birthday.
Children from both sides of the Rio Grande come together during Laredo’s 2020 celebration of George Washington’s birthday.  Gus Bova

Since 2006, when the Bush administration began building a border wall in earnest, the federal government has left Laredo alone, save for a short stretch of fairly ordinary fencing along the campus of Laredo College. The city’s a nightmare for wall builders. Because Laredo’s built right up to the bank of the Rio Grande, the government must risk building in the flood plain or route the barrier through homes and commercial buildings, and because the city has no river levees, the government can’t build on or behind dikes, as it has elsewhere in Texas. Late last year, however, the dam broke. In December, over objections from Hispanic and progressive lawmakers, Pelosi’s House approved about $1.4 billion in wall funding—much or all of it headed for the Laredo area.
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New Report Finds Privately Built Border Wall Will Fail

Portions of the wall are in danger of overturning due to extensive erosion.

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Trump’s Wall May Have to Avoid Multiple Historic Cemeteries

In a bid to protect a high-profile South Texas graveyard, Congress appears to have shielded other notable cemeteries too.

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2020: The Year Trump’s Wall Rises or Falls

The president may be incompetent and behind schedule, but he’s done damage already. And a lot more could be on the way.

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‘We Build the Wall’ Lands in South Texas, Vilifies Priest and Butterfly Refuge

In short order, the nonprofit accused a priest of supporting human trafficking and a nature center of butterfly-smuggling.

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The Trump Administration Blows Its Border Wall Budget

Congress gave CBP millions to build 25 miles of border wall in Hidalgo County. The money only paid for 13 miles.

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The Flood Next Time

The Rio Grande and the Mexican city of Miguel Alemán (left), viewed from atop a river bluff in Roma, Texas.  Kiara Riojas

In July 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice shelled out $12,000 for a 1.71-acre strip of land along the Rio Grande’s north bank in the Texas border town of Roma, designated RGC-1066. The property lay below a towering sandstone bluff offering a striking view of the Mexican city of Miguel Alemán. Then, over the course of three days in the summer of 2010, Hurricane Alex dumped more than two feet of rain on Northeast Mexico. In Roma, floodwaters swallowed RGC-1066, climbing some 15 feet up the bluff. Had the fence been built, it would have been nearly submerged and might have washed away. When the floodwaters receded, much of RGC-1066 had simply vanished downstream. Read more.

Starr County Proposes Alternative Border Wall Plan

Local officials outlined an alternative plan as part of a Congressionally mandated consultation process.

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Customs and Border Protection Wants To Know What You Think About The Wall

A wall built in the floodplain will put communities on both sides of the Rio Grande at risk.

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Democrats Finally Play Hardball on the Border Wall

Emboldened congressional Democrats are going on offense against the wall. And that could be good news for the Rio Grande Valley.

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Sunk Costs

Trump’s wall is running taxpayers a cool $25 million per mile, up nearly fourfold from just a decade ago. But all that’s only part of the story. Not included in that figure is a suite of hidden expenses.

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Holes in the Wall

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The border fence in Hidalgo.  Jen Reel

As the U.S. Department of Homeland Security marches down the Texas border serving condemnation lawsuits to frightened landowners, Brownsville resident Eloisa Tamez, 72, has one simple question. She would like to know why her land is being targeted for destruction by a border wall, while a nearby golf course and resort remain untouched. Read more.

Unearthing Resistance

“Nobody’s listening to us down here.” As Trump’s wall threatens a pair of historic cemeteries, an unlikely network of powerful Rio Grande Valley families has coalesced to oppose it.

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Engineer Who Helped Build the Wall Details Its Weaknesses

“The wall is a joke,” Joseph Jarvis said in January. “It does nothing to preclude ingress of narcotics and people.”

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Documents: CBP Ignored Federal Biologists’ Input on Border Wall

Border security officials visited wildlife preserves in Starr County, then blew off the recommendations of the scientists they brought along.

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‘Thrown Under the Bus’: Rio Grande Valley Residents Criticize New Border Deal

Some South Texas residents aren’t convinced the bargain’s a victory for the region they call home.

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Butterfly Refuge Files Restraining Order Against Feds Over Border Wall Construction

A South Texas nature refuge is asking a judge to order federal agents and wall contractors to keep out.

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All Walled Up

A section of the border wall near Camp Lonestar.
A section of the border wall near Camp Lonestar.  Jen Reel

The next time the Department of Homeland Security came calling, all pretense of “friendliness” was gone. With real estate specialists from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in tow, they now had pointed words. Congress had mandated the building of a 670-mile fence along the southern border in its 2006 Secure Border Fence Act. Sign the form or not, residents were told: The government will get its land. Read more.

Texas Teacher Could Lose Her Home If Trump Gets Any More Border Wall Funding

The feds are moving on Starr County land that they don’t have funding to build on yet.

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Can a Beloved Texas State Park Survive Trump’s Wall?

The state parks department has pleaded with the administration to save Bentsen state park from the wall.

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Indigenous Activists Set Up Protest Camp at South Texas Cemetery to Stop Trump’s Wall

A small group of activists and allies say they’ll stand in front of the bulldozers.

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Texas Border Sheriffs: There is No Crisis and We Don’t Want Trump’s Wall

Local lawmen don’t believe a wall will do any good.

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Documents Reveal Where Trump Plans to Build His Wall in Starr County

New maps show that the president means to build through 162 tracts of private land.

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Border Residents Roast Plans For Trump’s Wall in Congressional Committee

“When did the U.S. government get in the business of giving away the United States of America?”

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Over the Wall

Eloisa Tamez has to pass through a gate to access her property south of the wall.  Eugenio del Bosque Gomez

“Well, OK, I’ll talk to you,” Eloisa Tamez told me. “But you’re the last reporter I’m ever going to speak with.” It was late March, and CNN, NPR, the BBC and countless other media outlets had converged on the Rio Grande Valley to report on the “big, beautiful wall” that President Trump had promised to build. Tamez was one of the first people they sought out. For years she had been a leader of the landowner resistance in South Texas, speaking out often and eloquently against the folly of a wall. Read more.

Audio: Border Patrol Plans to Light Up Butterfly Refuge Like a ‘War Zone’

Trump’s wall is headed for a 100-acre butterfly sanctuary in Texas.

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Trump’s Border Wall is a Vortex of Stupidity

The Wall has morphed into one of the dumbest policy debates in the history of American politics.

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The Border Fence vs. Wall Debate is a ‘Trap’ for Democrats

“Steel slats, concrete barriers, or bollard-style fences – they are all the same,” said a McAllen congressman.

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Congressman Makes Last-Minute Move to Save Landmarks from Trump’s Wall

A state park, a butterfly preserve and a 120-year-old chapel are high on the list for wall construction.

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In South Texas, the Catholic Church vs. Trump’s Border Wall

A charismatic priest and the local diocese hope to save a 120-year-old chapel near the Rio Grande.

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Field Notes from Santa Anna

A rope bridge extends between two observation towers, giving visitors a sweeping view of the tree canopy and wildlife below.  Eugenio del Bosque Gomez

The wall is as much a state of mind as it is a physical construction, built less as a show of strength than a show of fear: fear of the inconstant borderland, the blended space where things move according to their own rhythms. The patchwork woodlands and wandering waters, the creatures at the edge of their range and those expanding beyond it: The wall has no place for them. Read more.

Border Patrol Calls Cops on Lawyers, Activists

Nine activists and civil rights attorneys voluntarily left a “stakeholder” meeting after Border Patrol told McAllen police they wanted to press trespass charges.

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Border Residents Protest Trump’s Wall in Hidalgo County

Activists and landowners called on Rio Grande Valley residents to resist construction of a wall and protect property rights and wildlife.

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The Texas-Mexico Border Wall Comes With a Dangerous Side Effect: Flooding

CBP has a history of building border infrastructure that exacerbates flooding.

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Swan Song

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Many of the bird species in Salineño exist nowhere else in the United States.  Kate Sutton

The Salineño Preserve is one of many wildlife sanctuaries — including better-known destinations like the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, the National Butterfly Center and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park — at grave risk if Trump’s wall is built as planned. The preserve’s tiny size and its location sandwiched between the river and the village mean that it could literally be wiped out. Read more.

Efforts to Inform the Public About Trump’s Wall Are ‘Careless’ and ‘Inadequate,’ Advocates Say

So far Border Patrol hasn’t held a single public meeting in the Valley about its border wall plans.

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Trump’s Border Wall Could Decimate These Rare Species

The 1,900 mile (3,000 km) Rio Grande supports a number of rare plants and animals.

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Trump’s Border Wall Lands Rio Grande on List of Nation’s Most Endangered Rivers

33 new miles of border wall could be the “last nail in the coffin,” environmentalists say.

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Trump’s Wall Is Coming to Texas. Meet Its First Victims.

Fred Cavazos at his property along the Rio Grande.  Gus Bova

Fred Cavazos, 69, has lived his entire life along a bend of the Rio Grande just south of Mission, Texas. Though he suffered from epileptic seizures as a kid, he helped his dad and grandparents grow cotton, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupes and corn on their 65 acres of riverside land. Later, he helped run a family grocery that now sits shuttered next to his house, a sign still emblazoned with his uncle’s name and a Coca-Cola logo. “A lot of people from Mexico would come by,” Cavazos remembers. “They wouldn’t even have money. My grandfather would write everything down: a book of matches, one penny, four eggs, a penny each.” Read more.

Houston Photo Exhibit Documents First Markers of Modern U.S.-Mexico Border

Taylor’s project is a modern-day exploration of a region that has become a newfound terra incognito.

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National Butterfly Center Sues Trump Administration Over Border Wall

The butterfly center is home to at least 100 species of butterfly.

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After Observer Report, Watchdog Requests Investigation into Border Wall Gag Order

“Whistleblowers are the nation’s first line of defense,” says watchdog group.

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The Documents Behind Trump’s Texas Border Wall Plans

The records give the most in-depth picture of the wall to date.

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Records Show Where Trump Plans to Build Texas Border Wall

The 15 segments of wall would tear through three wildlife areas in the Rio Grande Valley

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