MISSION, Texas — The Catholic Church considers land they own on the border to be sacred. But the federal government argues that same land is being used for illegal smuggling and wants to build a border wall.
The dispute between the church and the government will soon play out in federal court, but a border wall has already been approved for construction.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced in November it would start building a six-mile barrier on top of a Rio Grande Valley levee in February with funds appropriated by Congress last year.
The project would essentially wall off residents, a nature center and a 150-year-old historical chapel into ‘no-man’s-land.’ La Lomita, Spanish for "little hill," is a chapel often visited by Catholics and tourists alike.
Father Roy Snipes, who has called the Texas border home for the past 27 years, said there’s no need for a wall.
“Never have felt unsafe, all these years,” Snipes said.
The San Antonio native moved to the town of Mission in deep south Texas where he was ordained a priest by the Catholic Church. Since then, Snipes has rented out a trailer home on the banks of the Rio Grande.
“The whole river is sacred, it’s beautiful,” he said. “There’s no need to have a big ol’ ugly wall up here.”
The sentiment is shared by his neighbors as their properties could soon lie south of the border wall. But Snipes is especially concerned about the La Lomita chapel.
“One of the things they’re saying is, 'You won’t lose access to it,’” Snipes said. “At the chapel, that’s going to be a problem because the humble people go up there to pray. They’re not going to want to carry their papers with them and have to present papers to the officials in order to go into the chapel and pray.”
The government argues the area is a hotbed for illegal smuggling, which they said validates the need for a wall.
Two years ago, the KENS 5 Border Team captured the moment a group of immigrants were crossing the river by raft just south from La Lomita.
But that doesn’t worry the 73-year-old priest.
“Some of our best neighbors don’t have papers, but they’re very fine people,” he said.
As the debate over the border wall continues, so will the already-funded border wall projects. A pretrial hearing for the church and the government is set for Feb. 6.