SAN JUAN, Texas (Border Report) — Ramiro Ramirez’s wife, Melinda Walker Ramirez, died Monday after a long illness, and her funeral is Thursday at the historic Eli Jackson Ranch Chapel cemetery in deep South Texas.
But since a concrete border wall with metal bollards was recently built directly north of the cemetery, Ramirez tells Border Report that many in his extended family are uncertain whether they can even get to the chapel to attend the funeral.
“There’s a lot of misinformation within the family. The family is fairly large, about 500, and most of them believe that this wall has caused them to be in the Mexico side,” Ramirez said Tuesday as he visited the chapel and met with a funeral home representative to shore up details for Thursday’s ceremony.
“They believe they don’t have access to this church anymore. And we tell them differently,” he said as he was accompanied by his 5-year-old grandson, Liam, who rode around the chapel grounds in an electric car.
“It’s affecting a lot of people not wanting their families buried here because they don’t know how this wall is going to affect people not only now but in the future. It’s been a disaster,” he said.
The cemeteries date back to the mid-1800s and have ties to the Underground Railroad and once were a place where Ramirez’ ancestors helped slaves escape to Mexico.
Congress has exempted historic cemeteries, like Eli Jackson and the Jackson chapel, from border wall construction on the Southwest border.
And when he took office, President Joe Biden halted the construction of new border wall on the Southwest border.
But border barrier construction has continued in South Texas for the past year after border wall construction under the Trump administration left gaps in the earthen border levee, officials with the Department of Homeland Security have previously told Border Report. The ongoing construction is to prevent flooding in the region, officials have said.
Border Report asked DHS officials on Tuesday for more information on exactly how tall the bollards are that are being placed atop the concrete wall, how close the wall is to the cemeteries and why the wall is necessary. This story will be updated if a response is received.
Ramirez says the wall that has recently been built is too close and encroaching on the plots of their ancestors. And he’s not the only one who feels that way.
Scott Nicol, an environmentalist who tracks border wall construction throughout the Rio Grande Valley said the concrete wall was unnecessary to put atop the earthen levee, which has held securely here for decades.
“The levee at the cemetery was undamaged, completely untouched, until last month, when the contractor tore it open and built the border wall there. This is not only a desecration, it is a violation of a Congressional mandate that no border walls be built at historic cemeteries,” Nicol told Border Report.
“CBP is using the false claim of ‘levee repairs’ to tear open undamaged levees and turn them into border walls,” he said.
Ramirez says he has lived here for almost all of his life. His grandchildren play on the Rio Grande and he says he never sees migrants trying to cross from Mexico.
He says the area is safe and if migrants really wanted to cross they could do so easily in the many gaps throughout the border barrier system that exist throughout the region.
“The wall theoretically is supposed to be here to stop the immigration of people coming in, but there’s so many holes it’s not going to stop them. This wall has absolutely no effect as far as holding people back in or out,” he said.
Ramirez says he has twice traveled to Washington, D.C., and tried to get an audience with the president to no avail. He says he met with leaders of Congress, however, and he has asked for them to tear down the wall just feet from the cemeteries that his ancestors built in the 1800s on property that also was the staging ground for an Underground Railroad to help slaves get to Mexico.
“This wall represents a lot of things that I grew up believing not true about this country. This country has always wanted to help the poor, the sick, the orphans, the innocent, the oppressed. This wall doesn’t represent that,” he said.