HARLINGEN — Organizers of a grass-roots effort against building a border wall through the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge near Alamo will host a rally Saturday adjacent to the property.
The Department of Homeland Security has selected a three-mile section of the refuge to build a solid concrete wall and erect floodlights and surveillance towers to create an “enforcement zone” with a cleared strip of 150 feet adjacent to the wall.
It is earmarked as the first construction area of the Trump administration’s promised border wall. Critics of the plan say it will destroy a crucial wild area along the Rio Grande.
“As I’m sure you know, it’s been called the ‘crown jewel of the refuge system’ and that has a lot to do with the fact that it’s been preserved for so long, for so many years,” Joyce Hamilton, a member of the rally’s planning committee, said yesterday.
“In a way it feels like a covenant, if you will, with those people 75 years ago who established this (and) who believed that in the future it would be protected for all time.”
The 2,088-acre refuge is nestled on the north bank of the Rio Grande and is habitat for 400 bird species and provides important riparian habitat, the group Save Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge says on its Facebook page.
Hamilton said while the impetus for the border wall protest began in the Valley, it has spread through social media to the entire country.
“Last night there were 430 people on the Facebook event invite saying they are going,” she said.
“Two thousand had expressed interest so some of that interest is coming from all over the nation because there has been a lot of focus on this by birding and nature organizations around the country.”
Hamilton said rally organizers are planning for 400 or 500 people at the rally, where seating under a tent will be available in case of rain. Rain or shine, she said the rally will be held.
Initially the rally was to have coincided with the Santa Ana refuge’s own 75th birthday celebration, but that was delayed due to the brief government shutdown.
Hamilton stressed the protest against any border wall through the refuge is more than protecting wildlife. It is, she said, crucial to acknowledge what she and her colleagues see as the human cost of a border wall and any accompanying changes in U.S. immigration policy.
“There is a shared concern among our team for the DREAMers and the uncertainty of their lives right now, for the perception of a wall or border fence as cutting through our communities and removing access to the Rio Grande, as well as distress over the taking of private properties through imminent domain,” Hamilton said.
“And we’re upset over the egregious cost to U.S. taxpayers of border wall construction, and the feeling that walls really don’t keep people out anyhow, they just build a perception of ‘walling off’ communities,” she added.
IF YOU GO
WHAT — Stop the Wall Rally to save Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
WHEN — Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., rain or shine
WHERE — Farm field adjacent to the west part of the refuge near Alamo off U.S. 281
REASON — Protesting federal government plans to build a border wall through the refuge
AMENITIES — Tent will cover seating area, food such as BBQ and vegan tamales, speakers, poetry readings, music
CLOTHING — Wear boots or sturdy shoes and bring rain gear
COST — Free