Nation

Advocates stage first big Texas protest against border wall

MISSION, Texas — Hundreds of protesters wearing white and chanting in English and Spanish marched Saturday in Texas’ first major protest against a border wall, crossing the earthen Rio Grande levee where President Trump’s administration wants to build part of the first phase.

The protesters launched what’s expected to be a fierce movement against Trump’s best-known immigration policy priority.

Many of the participants acknowledged they might not be able to stop a project that the US government is already planning, but they hoped to draw national attention to the cause and persuade lawmakers who have yet to sign off on funding for the project.

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‘‘We might seem small and insignificant. Maybe we are,’’ said Anthoney Saenz, a 19-year-old native of the Rio Grande Valley. ‘‘But when our voices come together, when we band together as a community to try to get a voice out there, we have to hope we get heard.’’

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The valley is the southernmost point of Texas and a region where Trump has proposed putting 60 miles of wall as part of a $1.6 billion proposal.

Organizers of Saturday’s protest wanted to make clear the depth of local opposition to the border wall, which as proposed would cut through a federally protected wildlife refuge and split apart several border towns.

About 40 groups took part in the protest, from environmentalists to landowners’ rights groups to immigrant advocates.

The procession set out just after dawn from Our Lady of Guadalupe, a towering church in the border city of Mission. Saenz, an altar server at Our Lady of Guadalupe, led the group, wearing a white cassock and carrying a burner with smoky incense.

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The procession grew as it headed south toward the Rio Grande, the winding river that separates the United States and Mexico in Texas. The marchers walked uphill on a dirt path onto the levees, built well north of the river to protect border cities in the valley from flooding.

It ended at La Lomita, a tiny century-old chapel just south of the levee. Some people quietly prayed inside the chapel as a rally went on outside.

While the US House has passed a spending bill with funding for the wall, it faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Democrats and some Republicans are against it.

Government contractors have already been taking soil samples along the Rio Grande levees and have begun to examine property ownership records for the land condemnation lawsuits a border wall would likely require, according to local officials and landowners near the river.

A map released by US Customs and Border Protection shows tentative plans to build 28 miles of wall on the levee in Hidalgo County, the most populous county of the valley. Sections of fencing already stand on about 20 miles of the levee in Hidalgo County, built under the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

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The remaining 32 miles would go in sections farther west in Starr County, potentially sealing off or splitting some border towns from the river and consigning homes and farmland to what some derisively call ‘‘the Mexican side.’’