The Trump administration’s ambitious, election-year goal to build hundreds of miles of barriers on the southern border could face a roadblock in one South Texas county.
The commissioners court in Zapata County, a rural community that sits between Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley, is digging in and challenging the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in federal court over the government’s attempt to gain access to a small tract of county-owned land. The access would allow federal officials the right to survey property for possible future construction projects and is considered a procedural first step.
But that’s not how the county sees it, said attorney Carlos Flores, who is representing the county.
“For the [Trump administration] it’s just a routine matter. But the county has taken the position that they are not going to approach it that way,” he said. “Zapata County is not looking to reach an agreement, but rather challenge the authority of the federal government to do this."
The action in Zapata comes during a busy eight months in Texas for an administration trying to make good on the president's campaign promise to build a "big, beautiful" wall on the border. In November, the administration moved ahead with construction of new barriers in the Rio Grande Valley. That was followed by notices to landowners in Webb County telling them that DHS officials were moving ahead with surveys on private land.
And last month, the administration announced it was waiving several environmental policies to help fast track construction of about 70 miles of new barrier from north of Laredo to Zapata County.
Now Zapata County is trying to protect a roughly four-acre tract of land that’s home to a bird sanctuary in the town of San Ygnacio, which lies about 35 miles south of Laredo.
“We attract a lot of visitors to that area, it’s a habitat that we don’t want necessarily to be disturbed,” said Zapata County Judge Joe Rathmell.