A church in the small Texan town of Donna may be cut off from its parishioners if the controversial border wall promised by President Donald Trump happens, since it plans to pass through a stretch of land that would prevent access to this temple built in 1930.
La Hermosa Temple, located south of a dyke system, is one of the buildings and homes erected on a 6-acre site, with more than 80 owners affected by a recent federal court ruling granting the White House Administration possession of the land.
Karla Vargas, attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project, told Efe that “unfortunately the judge made immediate surrender of the land” despite being notified of the existence of the church and the threat that the wall poses to their right to “freely exercise their religion,” as defended by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“We will continue to litigate to ensure that these people have access to the church and the special events they hold there,” said Vargas, whose organization represents the owners.
During the hearing, the government promised to put a door in the wall for parishioners to access the church, which not only opens on Sundays and Wednesdays but also when weddings, baptisms, funerals and quinceañeras are held.
“There are no guarantees that the door is open,” Vargas said.
“The parishioners would have to make sure of the schedules in which they would have access and therefore it would require the continued cooperation of CBP [Customs and Border Protection], and trust that they would make a potential court order effective,” he added.
“For these families there is a great connection to the land not only because it is their home but also because of what it represents to them, it is a big piece of family history that is affected by this decision,” the attorney emphasized.
Despite the fact that the government has power over the land under the concept of “eminent domain”, which gives the state the possibility of expropriating private land with the corresponding compensation to the owners, the Texas Civil Right Project asks that the outcome “be fair to the landowners and that their legal rights be respected”, given that the land has belonged to their families for “generations”.
“In this particular case, the landowners were not aware of their rights, which is why they gave the government the right to carry out studies of the land, which represents the first phase before taking possession of the territory,” he told Efe.
“We want our clients to receive a reasonable amount for the land that is being taken away from them,” he summarized.