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Texas pecan farmers on front lines of border crisis say illegal migration threatening livelihood

Many of the El Paso County pecan orchards are located roughly a mile from where the Trump wall was erected in 2020.

Published: June 25, 2023 11:00pm

Updated: June 26, 2023 6:50am

A multi-generational group of families in Texas' El Paso Valley who’ve committed their lives to growing Pecans, the state nut, say their lives, livelihood and way of life are in jeopardy because of heavy foot traffic and crime coming from the southern U.S. border since the start of the Biden administration.

“The only reason I sleep at night is the Trump wall and the Second Amendment,” Jennifer Ivey, the wife of a pecan farmer and a Republican Party precinct chairwoman, said during a recent The Center Square interview at one of the family groves.

The pecan orchards in the El Paso Valley thrive because the region among the most unique geographic regions of the state for growing them. 

The valley produces over 50% of all pecans grown in Texas, which produces the most among the 14 states with which it competes.

Many of the El Paso County pecan orchards are located roughly a mile from where President Trump built a border wall in 2020.

The wall was built to replace a 2009-era steel fence built after Congress passed the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which received significant Democratic support.

Through the legislation, funds were allocated to construct "two layers of reinforced fencing" and "additional physical barriers" along a 700-mile stretch in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.

In a 2011 speech in El Paso, then-President Barack Obama said construction was “basically complete.”

Critics at the time argued only 5% was complete, which wasn’t enough to deter drug and human trafficking.

In January 2021, 131 miles of Trump’s new border wall was completed, including in southern El Paso County. It’s much taller and thicker than the 2009-era fence and cemented in concrete below the surface. When completed, former Customs and Border Protection Chief Mark Morgan tweeted photos comparing the two.

In the historic border town of San Elizario, farmers’ fields come right up to the wall, and a few hundred yards away are residential neighborhoods.

Multigenerational families, descendants of legal immigrants from several countries, began farming this region over 100 years ago. But they say as foreign nationals began cutting through the 2009-era fence or used rebar and ladders to climb over it, their way of life changed.

“Imagine feeling like you're living on the street and people are walking by all night long and you have a bunch of little children to protect,” Ivey said about life before the Trump wall. “Every morning you have to look around your shoulder, around your surroundings to protect your children. Because you never know where illegal aliens will be.”

Now, over a decade later, nearly every night, people are again trespassing on private property, walking right up to and past their homes, residents told The Center Square.

One resident said as illegal foreign nationals move north they’re “defecating in the fields, leaving their passports on the ground, all night long, it’s like that.”

On one property, farmers said, they found 1,000 pounds of marijuana buried in a ditch in their pecan orchard. They called a sheriff’s deputy who came and arrested the alleged traffickers, who purportedly were all in the U.S. illegally.

At another property, a farmer said he found several hundred pounds of drugs and called the sheriff, who confiscated it.

The next day, an abandoned vehicle was purportedly left in front of the farmer’s house filled with low-quality marijuana. And on the dashboard was a note that read: “By the time you read this, we’ve already moved 10 times the amount of drugs through your farm. Do not try to stop us.”

Those involved with drug trafficking and smuggling often hide large volumes of drugs on farmland near the border.

Frequently, one group brings and hides the stash, a second group comes to retrieve and deliver it, said the farmers, who also says they’re “being invaded" by people who don’t respect their way of life.

“This is still America,” Ivey said. “I still want to believe that things will get better. I’m going to keep standing for our constitutional rights and defend our freedoms and not stay afraid. If Trump’s wall wasn’t there we would be completely overrun.”

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