South Texas tribe says government surveyors encroached on their lands for border wall

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US officials say soil surveying is 'adjacent' to tribal lands

SAN JUAN, TEXAS (Border Report) ⁠— Members of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas who say government surveyors entered their tribal cemetery lands without permission recently and marked the area stakes and colored ribbons as a precursor to construction of a border wall. Federal authorities, however, say they are surveying “adjacent” to, but not on tribal lands.

Tribal spokeswoman Ruth Garcia, whose official tribal title is police liaison, told Border Report that surveyors with MDS Land Surveying Inc., of Kerrville, Texas, on Sept. 30 put up stakes and ribbons on lands that she says are part of their tribe, including the historic Eli Jackson Cemetery. She says the tribe then, through their attorney, issued a cease and desist order, which surveyors failed to adhere to when they returned Oct. 4.

In a video shared with Border Report, Garcia says she filmed two men putting up stakes on Sept. 30 on what her tribe considers “sacred lands.”

“I told them they weren’t allowed and it was private property, and they continued with their actions so that prompted me to start (filming),” Garcia said on Tuesday. “I told them ‘You aren’t supposed to be here. You aren’t allowed to survey or put stakes up.’ They ended up leaving after they put stakes up.”

But U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials issued a statement to Border Report on Tuesday defending the actions saying: “Geotechnical work for new border wall construction is scheduled to begin as early as this week in the U.S. Border Patrol’s (USBP) Rio Grande Valley (RGV) Sector in Hidalgo County near Doffin Road. The work is scheduled to last up to one week and will include the use of a drill rig to collect soil samples at the toe of the existing International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) flood levee. While this location is adjacent to the Eli Jackson Cemetery, plans for border barrier alignment and enforcement zone in this location will not directly impact the Eli Jackson Cemetery.”

Graves dating back to the mid 1800s are seen on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, at Eli Jackson Cemetery in San Juan, Texas. Behind the back row is a fence where tribal leaders say surveyors improperly entered to place markers for soil testing on Sept. 30, 2019. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez).

Garcia says a few stakes were placed inside the cemetery fence, and she believes the construction of a border wall on the nearby levee will disrupt the cemetery. She also claims that when the flood levee was built in the 1930s, that it was built on tribal lands and encroached on the cemetery at that time.

This vehicle and workers were spotted on Sept. 30 on lands that the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of South Texas say is theirs. (Courtesy photo).

“We’re just waiting because we expect for them to come back. Right now, I believe they’re a little bit spooked because we are speaking against the horrible things they are doing,” Garcia said. “For us, for the tribe, it’s all sacred land and whenever they first built the levee they were throwing human remains out like they were dog bones. What we’ve been told is that the levee would be moved over and the enforcement zone would shrink in that specific area, but we’re not dumb. We know that’s not going to happen. They’re not going to shorten the enforcement zone for that specific area.”

Many graves at Eli Jackson Cemetery are not marked, like the one above, leaders of the Carrizo/Commecrudo Tribe of Texas say. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez).

Fifty to 150 graves are located at the historic Eli Jackson Cemetery, which is in such a remote location that most Internet maps refer to it only by longitude and latitude coordinates. Many of the remains, which date back to the 1800s and are in unmarked graves, belong to members of the tribe, as well as emancipated slaves.

Read a previous Border Report story on Eli Jackson Cemetery here.

After CBP announced plans to build a border wall through Eli Jackson Cemetery, several lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, came out against construction on this historic site.

On Sept. 29, CBP announced contracts were awarded totaling $385 million to construct 65 miles of new border wall in the South Texas counties of Cameron, Starr and Hidalgo, where Eli Jackson Cemetery is located. And although CBP indicated that six properties will be exempt from a border wall, Eli Jackson Cemetery was not named. The exemptions include: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, La Lomita Historical Park, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, within or east of the Vista del Mar Ranch tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, and the National Butterfly Center.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.

Visit the BorderReport.com homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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