RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas – Danny Villarreal has lived in Rio Grande City, Texas, his entire life. He is part owner of about 70 acres of land along the Rio Grande.
Villarreal’s land backs up to the river, leaving it vulnerable to migrants trying to cross into the United States — but the latest migrant surge along the southern border is nothing new, he said.
“Every administration had their problem with illegal aliens, this is not the first surge we have seen,” Villarreal told Fox News. “This is the greatest country in the world, and why would people not want to be a part of the big melting pot?”
While Villarreal hasn’t seen many encounters lately, he said that when he does, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) acts quickly.
“There are so many cameras and sensors the government has hidden around here,” Villarreal said. “When the camera goes off, it is in real time and Border Patrol is very fast.”
And while Villarreal’s land hasn’t been bothered much, the story is not the same for his cousin Rene Villarreal who has a parcel next door. He described one of his most recent encounters to Fox News.
“There was this girl standing on this side right there and she was pregnant and I asked her if she needed help, she said ‘Yeah, I couldn’t keep up with the guys so I had to stay behind,'” Rene Villarreal said. “I told her that in her condition, she probably needed to get some help and so she came to the Border Patrol that was here and he picked her up.”
Rene Villarreal added that, similarly to his cousin, he is no stranger to the presence of Border Patrol.
“We have a jogging track for the city that runs here on the land and Border Patrol will typically drag this area with tractor tires,” Rene Villarreal said. “That way in the morning when they are doing their rounds, they can count foot prints because no one can jump from one side of this to the other.”
Both Rene and Danny Villarreal’s lands are part of just over 1,000 privately owned parcels in South Texas that the Trump administration was buying up for a border wall.
“They came to me and they wanted to know who had the legal rights to the property and then the process started. The land surveyors came through then the land appraisers came through next and then the negotiations and then you ultimately signed,” Danny Villarreal said. “And if you didn’t sign, they were going to take it away from you anyway.”
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Danny Villarreal, while not in support of the border wall, wanted to make sure he got what he thought his land was worth. So, when he was approached about the government buying some of his land and later making it home to a border wall, he agreed.
“My parents had land in Lopeno, Texas, and when they built falcon dam, they flooded the little town out and my parents were compensated, but it was pennies on the dollar,” Danny Villarreal said. “I said no at first, but they said they would take it anyway and I wanted to make sure what happened to my parents didn’t happen again, so I sold 1.2 acres of my land.”
The latest data from the U.S. Government Accountability Office showed that, as of July 2020, the government had acquired about 135 pieces of private land.
This includes more than an acre of Danny Villarreal’s property and an acre from each of his two cousins on either side.
The Trump administration was working to get more than 5,000 acres of land for the border wall, most of it in South Texas, but then the Biden administration came in and everything came to an immediate stop — leaving landowners like Danny Villarreal stuck in limbo.
“They said the money has already been set aside for this and no matter what the Biden administration says or does even if they stop the program, the land is still legally theirs,” Danny Villarreal said. “But, as of right now, I have not been paid.”
But now, the cousins said, they don’t know what is next for the wall or for their property.
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“You would have seen a major wall coming right through here, through those fields, coming all the way across and into the brush area, but no activity,” Danny Villarreal said. “But even though they have put a stop to the wall, for now, I am sure they aren’t just going to start giving land back.”
Meanwhile, dozens of eminent domain claims are still tied up in legal battles. However, as of mid-March, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has dropped its legal efforts to take possession of at least three tracts of land in South Texas.