faith in action

United Methodist chapel threatened by border wall

United Methodist News reported earlier this year about a historic United Methodist chapel that is being threatened by President Trump’s proposed wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. Here’s an update.

The Jackson Ranch Chapel was the first Protestant church in the Rio Grande Valley, the first Spanish-speaking Methodist Church in the area and a stop on the Underground Railroad. Its two historic cemeteries contain the graves of veterans from the Civil War through the Vietnam War, as well as the sacred burial grounds of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas. Both cemeteries have been designated as historical locations.

The land is, as United Methodist News reported in January, right where the Trump administration is planning to place a border wall and surrounding infrastructure.

EarthJustice, an environmental legal organization, has taken on the case of Ramiro Ramirez, the great-great-grandson of the founder of Jackson Ranch. Along with other plaintiffs, Ramirez and family are suing the Trump Administration to stop border wall construction and save these historic landmarks.

Last month, Earthjustice, Ramirez, members of the Carrizo Comecrudo, the Rio Grande International Study Center, and others came to Washington, D.C. to lobby members of Congress.

They have two primary requests:

  • Prevent the border wall from going through cemeteries.
  • Repeal a part of the REAL ID Act of 2005 that gives the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security the ability to waive any law they want to build barriers and walls.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela held a news conference Thursday in support of the effort. The Texas Democrat was joined by other members of Congress, environmental justice advocates and United Methodist advocates, including Church and Society and the Rev. Joe Archie, district superintendent of the Wilmington District of the Pennsylvania-Delaware Annual Conference.

Archie said, “We are standing up for the Jackson Ranch Chapel. This ranch and this chapel symbolize who we are as The United Methodist Church and even who we are as a nation. It is bilingual and multicultural and multiracial. It also has Underground Railroad connections. It is a model for the whole United Methodist Church and for people of Faith.”

Bishop Robert Schnase of the Rio Texas Annual Conference was not available for the news conference, but did join the delegation meeting with members of congress.

Earthjustice recently released this video that features Ramirez recounting the history of Jackson Ranch. Sarah Burt, the lawyer working the case, also discusses the legal issues in the case.

Because they are near the border, the chapel and both the cemeteries could be destroyed without any reverence or respect to their history or the people buried there.

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol awarded in August the contracts to build the wall through Jackson Chapel.