BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Standing over the grave of her father, a World War II veteran, Estela A. Hernández looks around at the once tidy cemetery.
The Monitor reports such was the scene at the Santa Rosalia Cemetery, which is just half a mile past the border fence's open entrance and down an unmarked dirt road near Brownsville, where a few U.S. Border Patrol agents are stationed.
It's been three years since she last visited her family's burial plots, which are located behind the fence. But she fears last year's approval of border gate funding will limit access to the cemetery.
Founded in 1890, the cemetery is one of the oldest in the area and home to nearly 1,000 burials, including many generations of Hernández's family.
Hernández, a former resident of Brownsville who now lives in Rio Grande City with her husband, spoke fondly of the graveyard with more than a century of history attached to it while making her way to the final resting places of her mother's side of the family.
"You could see all the graves were clean, people would come, there would be flowers," Hernández said of the cemetery's previous conditions.
On a recent Tuesday morning, however, Hernández and her daughter — who traveled more than 100 miles to honor her family before Dia de Los Muertos , or Day of the Dead — witnessed a cemetery now isolated and unkempt.
Ubiquitous with Mexican culture, the festivities surrounding Dia De Los Muertos honor and celebrate deceased family and loved ones. Before the celebrations began across the world, concern for the conditions and accessibility to her family's plot has now been exacerbated by continuing proposals for more border wall construction — this time in Starr County, where she currently resides.
"This is precious, this is — for me — holy ground," Hernández said. "My parents are here and right now as you saw there's no gate. So what's going to happen when there are gates . what's going to be the process to get across?"
Walking toward the area where she believes her family is buried, Hernández, who owns a small clothing business in Rio Grande City, is careful not to step on other headstones in the cemetery that is now covered in overgrown grass and other vegetation.
"It's sad," Hernández said of the cemetery's current condition. "To think there's a wall there, and to think all of our relatives are here — it's sad."
Holding flowers she brought from home to place on her mother's headstone, Hernández walked the cemetery grounds weaving her way around tall clumps of grass that obstructed the true size of the gravesites around her.
Hernández was among dozens who on Oct. 17 attended a public forum in Roma, where environmentalists, local immigration and border activists met to provide residents with information about U.S Customs and Border Protection officials' proposed border wall construction plans in the county.
During the public comment portion of the forum, the 69-year-old businesswoman, and the wife of a longtime Border Patrol agent who is now retired, spoke up and expressed her fear of how the proposed construction would impact her — drawing a comparison to the fence that separates her from her family's cemetery.
"I think we have a sense of hopelessness, because can we really do anything to change the administration's view of what they need to protect the country," she said.
She's worried that the proposed border wall construction in Starr County will have a similar impact on people's personal property and that of businesses in the area, which rely on shoppers from Mexico to drive up their sales.
"I think it's sort of a David and Goliath thing," she said. "We've been living here in peace for many years. Our crime is nothing like in Chicago, New York, Houston. ... It's a sense of hopelessness for (the federal government) to take the land to do this."
Hernández believes increased border security, such as motion sensors and other technology, may be a more effective deterrence for illegal activity that would also nurture cooperation between the United States and Mexico. But she isn't hopeful of what will become of the cemetery if border wall plans are carried out.
If a gate is placed at the entrance that leads to the cemetery, Hernández believes it will result in fewer visitors for those who were laid to rest there before eventually being forgotten due to a lack of access.
"(People) are going to come less and less," she said. "Then it becomes no man's land . the environment will take over and nobody will be able to access it."
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Information from: The Monitor, http://www.themonitor.com