MISSION — About 150 protesters gathered here at the National Butterfly Center and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, locking hands along the levee where a border wall was supposed to be erected.
Before the bill passed on Friday, these popular environmental destinations in addition to other similar sites were on the path of 33 miles of border wall construction funded by the March 2018 omnibus spending bill. Local congressmen, however, secured language in Friday’s bill that protects environmentally sensitive sites such as these from wall construction.
But it also secured funding for 55 miles of additional border wall in the Rio Grande Valley.
“There’s a value in the spaces that aren’t open to the public also,” said Tiffany Kersten of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club.
Scott Nicol of the Sierra Club Borderlands Campaign said the compromise fell short of protecting landowners with property along the border and the unincorporated nature sites along the banks of the river.
“It’s not OK to just protect a few places and at the same time throw many more under the bust,” he said. “The places that were protected were the ones with name recognition, but as the bulldozers are tearing apart our levees and as people are having their property condemned, the opposition isn’t going away.”
President Trump declared a national emergency Friday in an effort to unlock federal funds for the border wall after the 2019 spending bill fell short of what he promised.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said in a written statement that the decision is a “violation of constitutional authority” and an irresponsible reallocation of funds. U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, said the president “is moving into uncharted territory with his emergency powers utilization,” implying that lawsuits will likely ensue.
During his declaration of the emergency Trump predicted that he would face legal obstacles. As expected, several organizations, including the ACLU, of which representation was present at Saturday’s protest, have begun filing lawsuits.
“Sadly we’ll be sued, and sadly it will go through a process, and happily we’ll win,” Trump said.
It’s unclear what will happen to sites like the butterfly center and Bentsen if Trump is able to secure those funds. If he wins the lawsuits, Kersten said she doesn’t feel confident the congressmen’s protections will hold up.
“(When the declaration was made) I thought ‘There goes Bentsen; there goes the National Butterfly Center,’” she said. “All of that is out the window.”
The president has routinely referred to a “crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border, even calling the influx of asylum seekers from Central America an “invasion.” According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, illegal immigration is the lowest it’s been in a decade. The DEA’s 2018 Drug Threat Assessment also shows that the majority of drugs coming in illegally come through ports of entry.
“At some point, as a country, we decided that facts don’t matter anymore,” Kersten said. “I don’t know when that happened, but it’s pretty unreal.”