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Cavazos, who uses a wheelchair, rents out 30 riverfront plots for camping, fishing, and jet skiing on the Rio Grande. About 800 feet from the border, near a horseshoe bend in the Rio Grande separating the United States from Mexico, is the historic La Lomita Chapel. Carlos’s hands trembled as he told the story. She says the government has the right to claim private property for public use — but La Lomita is a chapel, not just private land. Today, Defenders of Wildlife launches a new interactive story map which details how border wall construction would impact the people, places and wildlife of the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) in Texas. Less than a week after President Trump declared the national emergency, five lawsuits had already challenged it in court. “I don’t think I’ll have any tenants left.”. “When the craziness of the world is wounding your heart, you can come here,” he said. Then, on February 14, Congress funded 55 miles of new walls in the Rio Grande Valley, and wrote protections for the chapel into the bill. Pamela Taylor, a homeowner who has lived on the Mexico-facing side of the wall for a decade, deadpanned, “We live in a gated community.”, Fred Cavazos’s 77 acres of riverfront property has been in his family since a mid-18th-century Spanish land grant to his ancestors. He greeted 82-year-old Andrea Chavez Garza, who visits the chapel almost every day to pray and sing. "Father Roy [Snipes] and I discussed this," Awbrey says. The United States government and the Catholic Church are facing off in federal court over access to the property where the historic La Lomita chapel sits. There is little that authorities could do to persuade Snipes to withhold such help. The chapel is nearly as old as the border itself, and Snipes, known locally as Father Roy, has been serving worshippers there since 1980. (Photo: Kirsten Crow/Caller-Times) In October 2018, the United States Border Patrol filed a federal lawsuit to seize the land surrounding the chapel and begin surveying for a border fence. Monty Awbrey, pictured here in his home office, is a businessman and supporter of President Trump's proposed border wall. Snipes waved to neighbors on both banks—to the north, Winter Texas at a trailer park, to the south, picnicking Mexican families. “The proposed border wall is fundamentally inconsistent with Catholic values and, if completed, would substantially burden the free exercise of religion,” lawyers for the Church wrote in a December motion. Before sunrise and illuminated by lantern light, the faithful gathered to pray, as they have many times before, at La Lomita chapel in Mission, Texas. "Each one of those agents I got to meet, I shook their hands and talked to them, thanked them for their service, and I asked them their opinion of the wall," he says. As part of a last minute deal to keep the La Lomitafederal government open, lawmakers carved out an exception for La Lomita … “That’s why we’re concerned that the chapel could be destroyed,” Nicol said. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Father Roy Snipes, whose chapel sits on the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. I love him to death and I'll do anything in the world for him. It's no surprise Awbrey was invited, since he's a vocal supporter of the president's signature campaign promise. They did confirm that no work has begun yet on the Mission section of the border wall. La Lomita Historical Park is a small park located in Mission, Texas, which contains the La Lomita Chapel, built in 1865. Most afternoons, Snipes unlocks his boat at the Cavazos dock for a sunset cruise on the Rio Grande. While there are no regularly scheduled religious services held at the La Lomita Chapel lies between the river and the flood control levee that parallels the river to the north. “Stay united when I go to heaven,” she advised. The La Lomita chapel was constructed in 1865 by missionaries, and is located very close to the U.S. border with Mexico. In the days before the 2018 midterm election, President Trump deployed 5,900 troops to the border. The Department of Homeland Security has said that in the Lower Rio Grande Valley the border wall will be erected north of the levee, rather than directly on the Rio Grande. BROWNSVILLE — The … Missionaries built La Lomita in 1865. La Lomita Park in Mission, TX, is home to La Lomita Chapel. Instead of a horse, Snipes drives a Suburban that permanently smells like his dozen or so rescue dogs, but he did stick a Cavalry of Christ decal on the rear door. The Rio Grande Valley is the Trump administration’s top priority for new border-wall construction. A bumper sticker on Father Roy Snipes' car. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment for this story. Past dusk, Snipes idled above the technical, imaginary, U.S.-Mexico line—the middle of the glassy river. The latest legal battle over the land between the government and La Lomita took place last week. In this case, Snipes and the congregation were asking for the church to be spared from the border wall. The iconic chapel will be divided from the community, with little to no access to a religious institution that is part of many lives in the Texas Rio Grande Valley. 25 miles of President Trump's proposed border wall, funded in 2018 when Republicans still held a majority in the House, are slated to go through Hidalgo County, where Mission is located. After his meeting with the President, Awbrey says he got a lot of hate on social media, where he was called a racist. "How can I protect them? Customs and Border Protection maps from July 2017 showed that the agency planned to build a wall segment just yards from La Lomita, which means “little hill.” At best, the plan seemed to leave the chapel on the Mexico-facing side of the wall—a liminal “no-man’s-land” south of the wall, but north of the border itself. Snipes worried that even if the church remained technically accessible, it can become functionally out of reach. In last year's appropriations bill, money was allocated for "levee fencing" on the land at La Lomita – a massive 30-foot wall on the north side of the property, complete with access roads and cameras. Constructed in 1865 by missionaries, the chapel is located close to the U.S. border with Mexico. It was a compelling picture, and five Army public-affairs units armed with late-model digital cameras churned out news-ready images. "And he knows what side I stand on and he understands my views and I understand his as well. In Washington, Pentagon officials “derided the deployment as an expensive waste of time and resources,” The New York Times reported. “Of course, if you got blue eyes, they may not ask you for papers.”, A few miles downriver from La Lomita, soldiers strung up rows of concertina wire, razor blades glinting in the sun. “A day I don’t come is not a day for me,” she said. You know it's normal. Last week, … “Looking good in the neighborhood,” Snipes said. And [Trump] looked at me like, what are you doing?" How can we get even water and sewer on the other side? Constructed in 1865 by missionaries, the chapel is located close to the U.S. border with Mexico. “It’s like a priest saying Mass in a war zone.” The military presence only foreshadowed what might be an even starker federal presence at the chapel: La Lomita stands in the proposed path of President Trump’s border wall. The U.S. government sued the La Lomita Chapel's property owners, the Diocese of Brownsville, for access to the land to conduct a survey for construction of a border wall … Advocates ramped up their campaign to defend the chapel, nearby wildlife sanctuaries, and the private landowners who stood to lose their riverside property to the government. When asked whether this tract of Santa Ana land will be affected by border wall construction or the 150-foot border enforcement zone surrounding the wall, U.S. Customs and Border Protection referred Border Report to a Sept. 30 news release that states the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a waiver to expedite construction of new border wall gates in Cameron and … “There’s a much more profound and powerful law that says I have to do that,” he said. 66ºF. The iconic chapel will be divided from the community, with little to no access to a religious institution that is part of many lives in the Texas Rio Grande Valley. Border-wall construction at La Lomita was uncertain, but militarization in the area is well under way. Border wall construction through this corridor will essentially throw that investment away. At issue is a chapel in Mission, Texas, about 75 miles west of the mouth of the Rio Grande. Father Roy Snipes, commonly … But if the border wall is completed, the chapel will be equally inaccessible to both countries. He says this is more than just a spiritual place. He normally wears his wide-brimmed hat, and on the altar with him are two of his rescue dogs. Two men pray at an early morning service at La Lomita chapel, a historical landmark in Mission, Texas. hide caption. And he said yes, and I just kind of reached out and started undoing my belt.". Among La Lomita's most devoted parishioners is 82-year-old Andrea Chavez Garza, who travels to the chapel nearly every day in spite of a crippling arthritis that … The income, about $30,000 a year, supports Cavazos and his sister. As part of a last minute deal to keep the La Lomitafederal government open, lawmakers carved out an exception for La Lomita … La Lomita chapel, in the Diocese of Brownsville, has been in the spotlight in the ongoing debate over a border wall. He says those labels don't work on the border. Father Roy Snipes with his dogs outside of La Lomita chapel. Finally, Carlos said, one of his jailers took pity on him and dropped him at the nearest church when the boss wasn’t around. ", A bumper sticker on Father Roy Snipes' car. La Lomita chapel was is proposed path for the border wall. (Photo: Kirsten Crow/Caller-Times) The chapel is made of simple white adobe, and Roy Rogers' song "Blue Shadows On The Trail" plays from a battery-operated radio in the chilly pre-dawn gloom as Rev. Earlier in February, … The entire chapel falls within the enforcement zone, and its presence seemed clearly incompatible with CBP’s construction plans. The La Lomita chapel was constructed in 1865 by missionaries, and is located very close to the U.S. border with Mexico. The Catholic Diocese of Brownsville is fighting a federal proposal to construct a border wall at the site. He loved “the old culture of sweet hospitality,” and saw its embodiment in La Lomita— quiet, open-air, no electricity. LATEST Belarus president accused of 'insults and slander' against exiled archbishop “La Lomita is at the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Father Pablo Wilhelm, from Roma, a trafficking hotspot. The chapel may lose their land if President Trump's border wall plans move forward. As the sun begins to rise, Father Roy Snipes opens a sunrise Mass at La Lomita chapel near Mission. “We’re going a little too far in labeling the president in being fearmongering,” he said. He said he had been kidnapped by the fearsome Gulf Cartel and held for ransom for more than three months. "Whether the mayors or local law enforcement want to say so. “Now you can rest, and breathe, and give thanks to God,” Snipes said when he was finished. We are united.". On the day of the welcome-home Mass, Snipes and three dogs streamed out of the Suburban with a small crowd already gathering. La Lomita Chapel is on the wrong side of the border wall. “The chapel is a symbol of the call of God to be hospitable and neighborly,” Father Snipes said. “Would they start asking people for papers?” he wondered aloud. Dana Cronin/NPR There wasn’t much for the soldiers to do. Donald Trump's border wall vs. the historic La Lomita church in Texas, which dates back to 1852. “We’re off like a herd of turtles,” he said on a warm fall evening, the motor coughing. Known locally as the “cowboy priest,” Snipes is a little like Mr. Rogers with a Stetson and a love for Lone Star, the “national beer of Texas.” These days, his horseback riding is mostly confined to the yearly citrus parade in downtown Mission, which is named after those early missionaries. The altar inside La Lomita chapel. ", She says the church argues that the wall is inconsistent with Catholic teachings, "which includes this principle of universality that all people are equal and need to be treated as such, and provided with basic necessities of life. Roy Snipes began teaching in an unincorporated Rio Grande Valley town in 1968. But then President Trump declared a national emergency to unlock more wall-building money than Congress had allowed. La Lomita Chapel will now be the subject of a federal court proceeding that could lead to the government taking the property surrounding the historic mission to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.At the center of the legal But now it seemed as if the river and the chapel themselves needed respite. The Catholic Diocese of Brownsville is fighting a federal proposal to construct a border wall at the site. For a moment, La Lomita seemed safe. Dozens of people packed into the one-room chapel Friday to pray that the 19th century mission known as La Lomita, perched on a hill above the Rio Grande, won’t be sealed off behind a border fence. He also met with President Trump when he was down here last month. Technology was far more effective than walls, he said, and he routinely brought food to desperate asylum seekers camped out in Matamoros, just across the international bridge, not far from his church. The Mass ends outside the chapel with a hymn in Spanish, and the congregation gathers around a bonfire amid the twisted mesquite trees. They've never had [migrants] walk up on their doorstep at three in the morning begging for help.". While Congress did appropriate $600 million last March for construction of 33 miles of new barriers in the Rio Grande Valley, La Lomita, a tiny one-room … In 2018 it became the subject of a dispute between the United States government and the Catholic Church due to its location in the path of President Donald Trump's proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. La Lomita Park in Mission, TX, is home to La Lomita Chapel. Last month, he threw a barbecue for border patrol agents working without pay during the shutdown. “The poor people would not come here anymore if they had to be interrogated by border … Father Roy Snipes after he led a procession to the La Lomita Chapel in August 2017 in Mission in opposition to construction of border wall. At worst, advocates feared that the chapel could be bulldozed. So there's no crisis here on the border.". The battle over the border wall goes on in the ... government and the Catholic Church are facing off in federal court over access to the property where the historic La Lomita chapel sits. hide caption. The next day in nearby McAllen, La Lomita Chapel will be the subject of a federal court proceeding that could lead to the government taking the property surrounding the historic mission to … Administration officials claimed that the congressional restrictions don’t apply to the national-emergency funds, leaving the chapel’s future again uncertain. It's part of a series of missions established by the Catholic Church to maintain a presence on the U.S. side of the new border. … Father Roy Snipes with his dogs outside of La Lomita chapel. "And you just wonder how many of your ancestors have been here praying for the same things we're praying, and asking our God to help us and give us the strength to go through another day.". He wanted Trump's son Barron to have it. "I mean you're here in the mornings," Villarreal says. In November, I met the art professor and activist Scott Nicol at La Lomita. “Grandaddy would have never believed that,” Snipes said, his white cassock billowing. Snipes strained for hope. La Lomita Chapel will now be the subject of a federal court proceeding that could lead to the government taking the property surrounding the historic mission to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.At the center of the legal argument is that the wall would violate the right of freedom of religion. If the border wall were to be constructed as planned, ... “La Lomita Historical Park is a small park located in Mission, Texas, which contains the La Lomita Chapel, built in 1865. You know Father Roy is a very compassionate man. There are no regularly scheduled religious services held at the chapel, but it is occasionally used for weddings, funerals, and other cultural events. Dana Cronin/NPR And 72-year-old Leonor Ochoa is sitting at the table enjoying the food and company. If Trump has his way, the people’s chapel will soon languish on the wrong side of a 30-foot border wall, or be destroyed entirely. The chapel, known as La Lomita Mission, served as sort of a … That fencing skirts the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, La Lomita Chapel and the National Butterfly Center, which Congress exempted from border wall construction in 2018. Constructed in 1865 by missionaries, the chapel is located close to the U.S. border … Donald Trump is scheduled to visit the border Thursday in McAllen, a city of 143,000 on the river. Roy Snipes makes his way down the aisle to preside over the Mass. The U.S. government sued the La Lomita Chapel's property owners, the Diocese of Brownsville, for access to the land to conduct a survey for construction of a border wall … There's also a riverside restaurant and a lot of farms and houses. Like many residents here, he has deep roots on both sides of the border. She says wall or no wall, that won't change. "What's different about this," she says, "Is that government can't take action that substantially burdens the free exercise of religion and that is not only part of the First Amendment, but it's also part of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It is maintained partly by the city of Mission, as it is located in a park. “Later, we’ll figure out the best way forward.”. Mary McCord is a senior litigator at Georgetown Law's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, and she's one of the lawyers representing the diocese. While there are … Yeah, they say they will have some gates and all that, but you know when seconds count, you still have to go through the gate.". The Catholic Diocese of Brownsville is fighting the federal government's plan to take the site of a historic mission as part of Trump's border wall. hide caption. La Lomita chapel, in the Diocese of Brownsville, has been in the spotlight in the ongoing debate over a border wall. The local diocese tried and failed to stop the government from surveying the chapel land. And 72-year-old Leonor Ochoa is sitting at the table enjoying the food and company. Back at La Lomita chapel, the post-Mass meal is winding down. For businessman Monty Awbrey, the answer is clear. "Our national security is at risk," he says. They're not in the rural areas out here. Father Roy Snipes after he led a procession to the La Lomita Chapel in August 2017 in Mission in opposition to construction of border wall. In December 2018, the Georgetown University Law Center's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) filed a brief in support of the diocese. The choice of processional music is an unusual one, but this congregation expects it. La Lomita chapel was is proposed path for the border wall. They did confirm that no work has begun yet on the Mission section of the border wall. For a time, it … Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is a biological treasure that provides habitat for more than 400 species of birds, over 300 species of butterflies and at least eight species protected under the Endangered Species Act, including the critically imperiled ocelot. Xeni Jardin 8:49 pm Wed Jan 9, 2019 Donald Trump's border wall vs. the historic La Lomita church in Texas, which dates back to 1852. Whether it's food and shelter... and according to the teachings of the pope migration is an important piece of this.". If those suits can’t stop construction, powerful “border barons” who support Trump but don’t want the wall on their land might. Such kidnappings in this part of the border have become commonplace in recent years as criminal syndicates have mined migrants for profit, a University of Texas study found. La Lomita Chapel, originally built in 1865, is the namesake of Mission, Texas. He runs his construction business from his ranch, where he also raises horses and cattle. “This church is my refuge.” Snipes introduced her to the Winter Texans, and she approached the microphone to recite a psalm and thank the crowd. “But it is scaring people here.” Mission is 88 percent Latino, and many families have mixed immigration status. In Texas, a white adobe chapel built in 1899 on the bank of the Rio Grande sits in the proposed path of President Donald Trump’s border wall. NPR's Francesca Paris produced this story for Digital. But there's also the constant presence of Customs and Border Protection, with watchtowers and helicopters, as well as sensors dotting the river bank. The battle over the border wall … The area encapsulates the debate over border security — specifically, what kind does this part of Texas need? A week later, priests from the border towns of Brownsville and Roma gathered at Snipes’s place for a “bachelor Thanksgiving” replete with Lone Star, canned beans, and instant mashed potatoes. His wife is Latina and he speaks fluent Spanish. he recounts, laughing. "That's not right," he says. The region saw 160,000 unauthorized border crossings  last year, more than any other sector, though many were families turning themselves over to officials in order to seek asylum. Now he was staying in one of Snipes’s makeshift shelters— a donated RV, a Winter Texan hand-me-down. That week, the government signed two contracts with a Galveston-based construction company to build eight miles of wall near La Lomita. "Like right now, in this moment, we're a lot of different families, and all of us are coming together and sharing our tacos, and our lunch. The Latest News and Updates in La Lomita Chapel brought to you by the team at BorderReport: It's a normal event. “The symbols clash,” Snipes said. La Lomita Chapel as seen in Mission, Texas, on Feb. 14, 2020. Rene Villarreal is a 51-year-old electrical contractor and a father of five sons. He intones, "Oh Lord, you made our hearts and you know us and you know our affliction and our astonishment at the arrogance of our own government desecrating the sanctuary of our homeland ... ignoring our rights as free Americans and sons and daughters of Texas, South Texas. In Donna, a soldier who grew up in the valley told me the whole thing was “kind of surreal.”. The chapel’s white adobe was visible through the trees, illuminated by solar lights that Snipes installed himself. Nicol, who has been fighting the border wall since the George W. Bush–era Secure Fence Act, brought a large roll of measuring tape to see whether the chapel would fall within CBP’s planned “enforcement zone”—a 150-foot strip extending from the base of the wall, clear-cut of vegetation, featuring a gravel road, stadium lighting, and surveillance equipment. La Lomita Chapel lies between the river and the flood control levee that parallels the river to the north. La Lomita Chapel, originally built in 1865, is the namesake of Mission, Texas. The planned border wall would leave the property in the no-man’s-land, behind a 30-foot wall. Snipes began holding Mass each Friday at … La Lomita was uncertain, but for now is. Congregation were asking for the soldiers to do that, ” Snipes said Ochoa is sitting at the site migrants! 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