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Veterinario Abel Resende//
A potential underground railroad site rests along the border. A lawsuit seeks to protect it from Trump’s wall.

Tombstones at the Eli Jackson Cemetery, which may be threatened by the border wall. (Courtesy of Sylvia Ramirez) By Meagan Flynn Meagan Flynn Morning Mix reporter Email Bio Follow March 15 at 7:22 AM Ramiro Ramirez has been visiting his family cemeteries more often than usual.

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Almost every day, he makes the short trip to the two historic landmarks deep in the Rio Grande Valley to pay his respects. Both rest just north of the Mexican border, one next to a small chapel that his ancestors built in 1874, the Jackson Ranch Church, and the other fenced in by towering trees just down the road, the Eli Jackson Cemetery

They mark the final resting places of not only Ramirez’s ancestors, historians believe, but also freed slaves and indigenous people

The sites represent the last remnants of what was likely once a depot along the southbound Underground Railroad, historians believe — one that was founded by Ramirez’s great-great grandfather, Nathaniel Jackson

Ramirez keeps returning to visit his ancestors’ graves, he said, because now he and his family fear one day they may not be able to. The reason: Both cemeteries are right in the line of fire of President Trump’s proposed border wall

On Thursday, Ramirez and numerous groups filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration seeking to protect their various properties from the wall and asking a judge to find the president’s national emergency declaration unconstitutional. The Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, an indigenous Rio Grande Valley tribe that believes its ancestors are buried in the cemeteries, was among those who joined the lawsuit, which was filed in the District of Columbia. The tribes have been camping out at the Eli Jackson Cemetery since at least January, intent on remaining there if it means facing down a bulldozer, members have said.

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The Eli Jackson Cemetery is at risk of falling within the 150-foot “enforcement zone” that adjoins the proposed wall, while the Jackson Ranch Church cemetery is at risk of falling on the south side of the wall, complicating the family’s access

“I want people to know that there is a lot of important history here that they are not aware of,” Ramirez told The Washington Post in a recent interview

For more than a century, the Jackson family history was a story passed down through generations only by word of mouth. Then, several years ago, it caught the attention of a group of local historians, who started compiling the archives

The story begins in Alabama in 1857, when Nathaniel Jackson sold his plantation and freed the 17 slaves who worked on it, according to Hidalgo County Historical Commission reports and interviews with the Jackson family. One of those former slaves appeared to be Jackson’s wife, Matilda Hicks

In 1857, they piled into a bandwagon with their children and 11 of the freed slaves and headed south, as far south as they could go toward the border, right to the very tip of the United States in Hidalgo County, Tex. They were trying to escape the racial oppression of Alabama, said University of Texas Rio Grande Valley historian Roseann Bacha-Garza, who has studied the Census records and archives related to the Jackson family. Down at the border, Jackson and Hicks wouldn’t need to hide their marriage. They started a ranch community that, in the age of the Fugitive Slave Act, defied the acute racial animosity that plagued the rest of the nation. Here, mixed-race families on the Jackson Ranch were neighbors with Mexicans, African Americans, the Carrizo/Comecrudo tribe, former slaves and former slave owners. There were Union sympathizers and Confederate soldiers sprinkled into the family tree

All the while, Bacha-Garza said, it appeared Nathaniel Jackson was ferrying runaway slaves over the border to freedom. He owned a ferry right along the Rio Grande

Inside the Jackson Ranch Church, founded in 1874. (Courtesy of Sylvia Ramirez) “Once they got to the border, to the river, those [fugitives] at least had a choice when they encountered these mixed-race families who were living peacefully in the area and acculturating into the community,” said Bacha-Garza, who helps lead a Civil War Trail project at the university devoted to uncovering Civil War landmarks in the valley. “They had that easy access to escape over the border over the river into Mexico. But some of those folks decided just to stay behind and settle into the community. They were surrounded by like-minded people.”

Decades later, some in the Jackson family see history repeating itself

“Instead of people stopping here to go south, they’re stopping here to go north,” said Melinda Ramirez, Ramiro Ramirez’s wife

Members of the Jackson family have diverse opinions about immigration and border security. Some support the wall and some don’t. Some support the wall in some places and not others

But none of them want to see Trump’s wall touch the two sacred cemeteries

Rita Jackson, a Trump supporter, told The Post she would “rather die” than live to see the day the cemeteries were disturbed. She will one day be buried in the Jackson Ranch Church cemetery, and like many in the family, she is concerned about how the cemetery will be accessed if it is on the southern side of a wall. She questioned whether it would be safe to cross freely through the gate. How will they get in?

Sylvia Ramirez, who opposes the wall, said she is fearful that U.S. Customs and Border Protection may listen to their concerns but ultimately ignore them. Since the Eli Jackson Cemetery falls squarely within the 150-foot enforcement zone, she fears it may be at risk of desecration, potentially even exhumation

At a March 6 meeting with Raul Ortiz, CBP’s acting chief in the Rio Grande Valley Sector, the Jackson family had an opportunity to ask some of those questions. It was informative, Ramirez said, though far from comforting

Ortiz began by pledging politics would have no place at the table, like a parent intent on enjoying a family dinner, and for the most part this remained true. He wanted to give them the facts. He ticked off a list of areas that have been deemed “sensitive” along the U.S.-Mexico border, such as La Lomita church in Mission, Tex., but the Jackson family cemeteries were not among them

“Why aren’t we included?” asked Sylvia Ramirez, Ramiro’s sister, according to video footage of the meeting

Ortiz told her he wasn’t sure, and that he believed all cemeteries should be considered sensitive. But he didn’t want to sugarcoat anything. He said he would not be able to assure them that the cemeteries were entirely off limits

“I’m not going to concede to anything at this meeting,” he said. “I’m not gonna tell you we’re not gonna build a fence in or around the cemetery. What I am gonna tell you is that I will make sure that I listen to your concerns, that we document those concerns, and that they factor into any decisions that are made later on.”

He said there was no “immediate” plan to break ground, given no money has been appropriated to begin construction in this specific area

CBP could not immediately be reached for comment by The Post

Ramiro and Sylvia Ramirez will one day be buried in the Eli Jackson Cemetery, on either side of their father. They have already purchased the tombstones. “I don’t want to be buried anywhere else,” Sylvia said

But the wall, the lawsuit, the national emergency hanging in the balance — it all has Sylvia visiting the cemeteries more often than usual, too

She has been thinking a lot of Matilda Hicks lately, she said, how the former slave and Nathaniel Jackson must have traveled miles and miles through the Deep South, through endless barren fields in the South Texas brush, likely risking persecution or worse to get to freedom at the Rio Grande. The thought that a border wall may threaten what still remains of their efforts, she said, “is something that just can’t be tolerated, no matter what the government says.”

“We need to recognize their struggle and their sacrifice,” she said. “It’s not something we can just leave buried.”