Most mornings, 19-year-old Greg Garcia passes through an opening in the rusting, 18-foot-high steel fence on his way to classes at Texas Southmost College in Brownsville, where he studies the air conditioning sciences.
On his way home, he drives south past the border wall. More often than not he is waved through by Border Patrol agents who have come to recognize his truck. If there’s a new agent on the wall, he might get stopped and asked a few questions. It’s something he’s gotten used to over the last half decade.
“I’ve had some family members say to us, ‘When we come over to the house, do we need to bring some legal documents to get back?’” he said. “People think we live in Mexico. Actual Mexico.”
Garcia and his family are among a handful of Texas residents caught south of the wall when it was built under the Bush and later Obama administrations. They live in a hard-to-define third space, between river and wall, that stretches in fits and starts from Brownsville, through the Rio Grande Valley, and reappears in places like Eagle Pass.
President Donald Trump has pledged to build 1,250 miles of new border wall, and most of that would be in Texas, where only about 10 percent of the border is fenced in. But Texas is unique among border states: the border here is marked by the wild undulations of the Rio Grande and crowded with private land parcels. Flooding concerns and property disputes forced the existing fence to be built up to a mile from the river’s edge. That’s left wildlife sanctuaries, nature trails, cemeteries, soccer fields and family homes caught in a no-man’s land between wall and river.
A team of five American-Statesman reporters and photographers traveled nearly the entire length of the Texas-Mexico border to examine how the existing border fence is affecting communities in the Rio Grande Valley, and to study the impact the coming border wall would have in places like Big Bend and Falcon Lake.