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Pulitzer Center Update March 28, 2018

Student Spotlight: Reflections on the U.S./Mexico Border Wall

Juan Cavazos of Brownsville, Texas at the electronic gate in the border fence that runs through his property. Image by Martin do Nascimento for The Texas Tribune. United States, 2017.

Donald Trump's promised border wall will involve taking land from hundreds of people. An earlier...

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The border fence and levee pass through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Hidalgo. Image by Callie Richmond. United States, 2017.
The border fence and levee pass through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Hidalgo. Image by Callie Richmond. United States, 2017.

“Last week, in a writing class at the Pulitzer Center, I learned about this thing, this really important thing called Eminent Domain,” writes Virginia high school student Molly Rufus in an article developed as part of a feature writing course home-schooled students in the DC metro area. “I thought I knew all about the border wall, but by the time the class was over, I was frankly amazed by how much I didn’t know.  And what you don’t know can hurt you.”

The course, developed and led by facilitator Pier Penic, connected students to Texas Tribune reporter Kiah Collier for a discussion at Pulitzer Center’s DC office about how eminent domain law allowed the U.S. government to obtain land in the early 2000s for the construction of a wall along the border of Texas and Mexico. Collier described how she spent months investigating how the government acquired the land for the wall, and how the people living on that land had been impacted. Students then worked with Collier and Penic to apply feature writing skills to the creation of their own essays evaluating the potential impact of a new border wall.

“The US, Mexico border is a distance of nearly 1,954 miles.” Griffin Hoya begins in his essay, American Border Wall. “The Trump administration wants to build a wall that stretches across the entire length of this border. However, neither the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996, nor the Secure Fence Act of 2006 were able to accomplish this.”

“Not many people know that a fence already exists where the wall is to be built,” Faith Stillwell writes in her essay, The Shadow of Eminent Domain. “In 2006, Congress issued the Secure Fence Act (5), initiating the construction of a fence to be built along the border between Mexico and the United States. Much of this fence is on land that was previously privately owned.”

“At this point in class, I wondered, ‘Just how much has the government paid in total for these 60 miles or so of land,’” Rufus writes in her essay, Eminent Domain: What you don’t know can hurt you. “The government paid $18.2m total for the 60 miles of land and homes. Think about it; 640 acres are in a single mile.”

Several students integrated Collier’s articles and their own research when writing their essays. They also applied tips outlined by Penic in the resource, “How to Write a Profile Feature Article.” While some students focused their essays on objectively communicating their research, others developed their essays into research-supported opinion pieces. Rufus built her reflections around a narration of Collier’s presentation. She writes, “ ...When asked by a fellow student if people could climb over this fence, Ms. Collier replied in a no-nonsense tone, ‘Of course, of course, it’s easily climbed--I tried myself.’ I was stunned that I didn’t know about this.  I mean, it was put up more than ten years ago…”

Click on the links below for the full essays from students Griffin Hoya, Molly Rufus and Faith Stillwell.

For more ways to connect Collier’s reporting to the classroom, check out the lesson “Standing Ground: Eminent Domain and Just Compensation Rights.”


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