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Planned Texas border wall would cut off congregants from their church, 'burden' religious practice

Plans to build part of President Donald Trump’s border wall near a levee in Donna, Texas, are being challenged on claims that it will “burden” churchgoers by cutting them off from easily accessing their church building.

According to KRGV, the U.S. government has been awarded about six acres of land to the west of Donna’s international bridge by a federal court to construct part of the border wall.

Since Trump took office in 2017, the administration has authorized the construction of border fencing along the U.S. southern border to prevent illegal border crossings, hundreds of thousands of which occur each year.

The Trump administration wants to build a wall south of Alamo over a flood levee where several homes are located in Donna.

The federal government filed condemnation actions in December. The government’s request was granted by federal courts in Texas and Louisiana in January.

In Donna, the land in question is owned by as many as 88 people, KRGV reports.

Advocates say that building a wall on the levee in Donna will cut off houses on the south side of the wall from the rest of the Rio Grande Valley.

Among the residents who could be impacted is Yolanda Hernandez and her family.

Hernandez’s family has owned land in that area for over 100 years.

Hernandez is also a member of the Templo La Hermosa Church, which has been around since the 1930s. Should the wall be constructed, lawyers say, it will be built on the path to the church and cut off Hernandez and others from attending Templo Hermosa Church.

“I am a member of the church and my parents were part of the building of this church,” Hernandez told the local television news outlet. “Normally we have about 20 [attendees]. We have more members but they don’t show up.”

Ricky Garza of the Texas Civil Rights Project and another attorney representing landowners impacted by the wall plans went before federal Judge Randy Crane on Wednesday asking that the land not be handed over to the government until the concern about the church and other concerns are resolved.

Garza told the local ABC affiliate that the border wall will “deter” people from attending the Templo La Hermosa. Hernandez agreed.

"That is going to substantially burden your religion,” Garza said. “That is going to impact your ability to practice because you won't be able to go to the church and choose the type of religious practice that suits your conscience."

Read Also:Authorities Prevent Overseas Church Aid Against Coronavirus

Hernandez said she has been in talks with U.S. attorneys.

"I talked to one of the attorneys, and they told me that they were going to make arrangements to leave the gate open on Sunday mornings,” Hernandez said, adding that it would be open for special events such as weddings and funerals as well.

However, Garza would like to see such accommodations in writing. He argued that even if the gates are left open, there will still be a burden on passersby to go through a security checkpoint.

“You'll have to get a number from Border Patrol to pass through the gate,” Garza was quoted as saying. “You'll be unsure if that gate is going to open or not. Whether if the power goes out if something is going to block that church from being accessed.”

Hernandez believes that people still may not come to church because they will use the excuse the “gate is closed.” But ultimately, she believes that the people who “really want to come to church will come to church.”

Last year, Congress acted to protect five locations in the Rio Grande Valley from border wall construction, one of which was the  La Lomita Chapel in Mission, Texas.

The Diocese of Brownsville, which filed a lawsuit against the border plans, claimed that the construction of the wall would have cut off the historic chapel from those that worship there. 

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