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Texas pecan farmers on the front lines of border crisis

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Depending on how one says, “pea-can” or “puh-cahn,” it’s easy for natives to tell if the person speaking is a Texan or not. The little nut packed with nutrients and properly pronounced “puh-cahn,” as natives will tell you, bears great significance to the Lone Star State.

The pecan tree was first discovered in what is now the southernmost part of El Paso County, Texas. The only tree nut native to the United States, it’s the state tree of Texas. Pecans are also the Texas health nut and pecan pie is the official state pie.

A multi-generational group of families in the El Paso Valley who’ve committed their whole lives to growing the state nut say their lives, livelihood and way of life are in jeopardy because of heavy foot traffic and crime coming from the border since the administration of President Joe Biden began.

“The only reason I sleep at night is the Trump wall and the Second Amendment,” Jennifer Ivey, the wife of a pecan farmer and Republican Party precinct chair, told The Center Square in an exclusive interview during a visit to one of the family groves.

The pecan orchards in the El Paso Valley thrive in one of the most unique geographic regions of the state. The valley produces over 50% of all pecans grown in Texas. Fifteen states produce pecans; Georgia, New Mexico and Texas produce the most.

Many of the El Paso County pecan orchards are located roughly a mile from where the Trump wall was erected 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 it, funds were allocated to construct “two layers of reinforced fencing” and “additional physical barriers” along a 700-mile stretch in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. In a 2011 speech in El Paso, then President Barack Obama said construction was “basically complete.” Critics at the time, however, argued only 5% was complete.

And it wasn’t enough to act as a deterrent to drug and human trafficking, which locals say was heavy during the Obama administration and dropped under the Trump administration. Now, under the Biden administration, residents say they’re being overrun.

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 published photos comparing the two.

It’s all new wall. pic.twitter.com/HwYi5AxVPf— CBP Mark Morgan (@CBPMarkMorgan) January 5, 2021

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

This is the difference between a 2009-era Obama fence and a 2020 Trump wall in southern El Paso County in a farming community in San Elizario, Texas. pic.twitter.com/iqwWu4nKli— Bethany Blankley (@BethanyBlankley) June 22, 2023

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

Ivey described what it was like living in this region prior to the Trump wall being built. “Imagine feeling like your living on the street and people are walking by all night long and you have a bunch of little children to protect,” she said. “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 trespassing on private property, walking right up to and past their homes, residents told The Center Square. At a recent meeting at a home in Fabens, 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 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 were all in the U.S. illegally.

At another, a farmer found several hundred pounds of drugs and called the sheriff, who confiscated it. The next day, an abandoned vehicle was left in front of the farmer’s house filled with low quality marijuana. On the dashboard was a note that said, “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. One group brings and hides the stash; a second group comes to retrieve and deliver it, the farmers explained. They said, they’re “being invaded by people who don’t want to do with our 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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