Community resists border wall construction, equipment moves in
Updated: Feb 8, 2019
By Jonathan Salinas
Dozens of Rio Grande Delta residents, Native peoples and allies from across the U.S., marched from Grace Baptist Mission, a modest adobe-colored church with a white steeple rising greatly overhead, to the National Butterfly Center just one day after excavation equipment was discovered near east of the center.
The march, led by Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation, a tribe indigenous to the Delta, began after ceremonial songs by Tribal Chairman, Juan Mancias, and Duwayne Redwater of the Lakota Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Joined by activists from local, anti-racist, anti-militarization organizations, people held banners that read, “Roots Break Walls,” “One Land, Una Tierra / One People, Un Pueblo”.
As they went down a muddy, levee road, leading back to Military Rd., heading west, they chanted “No walls on stolen land!”
At one point along the trail, Mancias paused the march in order to focus attention on a Border Patrol truck parked up the levee, directing the crowd of about 50 in the anti-colonial cry.
“8 law enforcement units around the National Butterfly Center this evening,” read the National Butterfly Center Facebook post, “as the first excavator rolled in…” According to the statement, a Mission Police Department officer was parked on the center’s private property. The officer reportedly stated that as of Monday, there would be “NO ACCESS to our own land south of the levee,” adding that it would all be government land, and that law enforcement would prohibit anybody from stepping foot onto the levee, which sits on the NBC’s private property.
“We know this is illegal and will be taking legal action tomorrow,” wrote the center. As of yet, the NBC has not announced any new legal actions. In 2017, they entered into a lawsuit with the federal government, arguing that their private property rights, constitutionally protected, were being violated, after Marianna Treviño Wright, Executive Director of the NBC, discovered excavation equipment on their property. The center is expects to file legal action by the end of the week, Treviño Wright told Únete Thursday.
NBC officials were able to access the levee and their property just south Monday morning. Dr. Jeffrey Glassberg, a geneticist, conservationist, and founder of the center told Únete that their locks on the levee had nonetheless been broken by border patrol, something he says is common. The excavation equipment just sighted one day earlier was gone, according to Glassberg who had just flown in from New Jersey.
Únete contacted the Mission Police Department and spoke with Assistant Chief of Police, Jody Title, who said that the officer in question “was just parked close to his area,” uncertain if he was at the center or nearby. Title said no enforcement operations occurred that evening at or around the National Butterfly Center either in conjunction with or independently of the US Border Patrol. He also stated that when questioned, the officer did not remember the conversation as described, adding that patrol officers are not necessarily knowledgeable on federal immigration policy. The incident described Sunday remains unclear.
Construction set for Wednesday
On Tuesday, the National Butterfly Center stated that construction is set to begin Wednesday at the El Morillo Banco, a wildlife refuge located between the NBC and Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park. Since the wildlife refuge is already federal property, the federal government does not need to seize the property in court, although expansion in either direction puts both beloved nature centers in the border barrier’s cross-hairs. On Thursday, the National Butterfly Center posted photos of construction equipment set to clear out the refuge.
The Legislative and Executive branches of the US government made it possible, through the 2006 REAL ID ACT, to waive federal laws that would or may impede border wall/fence/slat construction. Conservationist groups like the Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), have sued the federal government’s waivers, but have so far been unsuccessful in federal court insofar as getting waivers overturned, according to Laiken Jordhal of CBD.
Thus, all three branches of government have failed to defend immigrants and border communities from ecological destruction and militarization. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that dedicated people of conviction have taken to the streets, and traveled to the Rio Grande Valley (Delta), to do what the government won’t—stand up for and defend the rights of the environment, Native peoples, and people from other countries.
From Standing Rock to the Rio Grande
On January 19, the Carrizo/Comecrudo nation and volunteers, reestablished a permanent, autonomous village near the Eli Jackson cemetery in Pharr, Texas, called Yalui Village, complete with tents, kitchen and solar-powered energy on which portable showers and phone batteries charge. The historic cemetery is positioned south of an International Boundary and Water Commission levee, near the corner of Military Highway and Veterans Boulevard. Money was appropriated for levee fencing of all Hidalgo County in a 2018 omnibus bill, although waivers for the cemetery have not been filed by the US Department of Homeland Security.
The group was joined by members of Jackson, Ramirez family, many of whom are buried at the cemetery. A group of about 8-12 native and non-native volunteers are permanently camped. The majority are seasoned activists, many of whom participated at the Standing Rock resistance against the North Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as the Occupy Wall Street movement just a few years before.
The tribe plans to re-establish more autonomous villages along the river, which would serve as education centers, training the community in observing human rights abuses by US Border Patrol, according to Tribal Chairman Mancias. “They tried to put out our fire,” said Carrizo Comecrudo Tribal Chairman, Juan Mancias, of the intent by government and private officials to undermine the resistance built at Standing Rock. “But they just kicked the embers and spread them across the U.S.”
Mancias resides in Floresville, where his ranch is known as tribal headquarters—Somi Se’k. The embers that arrived in the Rio Grande Delta come from as far away as Wisconsin, Wyoming, California, and North Dakota, with occupations varying from a former US Army Colonel who served in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, physical therapists, and bread factory workers.
Douglas Warren, worked a volunteer kitchen during occupy wall street, was present at Ferguson, Standing Rock, and helped set up a kitchen at Yalui village out of an army-style tent. “It was hard to adjust to the default world,” said the veteran activist. “At Standing Rock, I had a role in society, a function.” Warren serves many functions at the camp, just like Jesse Cummins, a Colorado native who was also present at Standing Rock.
Evan Duke, a Sacramento resident was at Standing Rock and recently visited Tijuana in solidarity with migrants. He traveled to the Delta with Duwayne Redwater, a member of the Sioux Tribe. Redwater sings Lakota Sioux songs at the village, which has been helped greatly by the organization Camps Arising— a non-profit that came out of Standing Rock for the purpose of helping establish anti-pipeline encampments and was founded by former Wisconsin State Senator Joe Plouff.
The three-term state senator, expressed grave concern in the privatization of security forces at Standing Rock, as well as emergency security compacts that enable out of state police to assist during emergency situations, used to suppress the Standing Rock movement. Some of these state police forces included border patrol agents.
Plouff expressed regret for voting in favor of the compact’s establishment in his home state in the 90s when, as he recalled, security compacts were sold to legislatures as to be used only during emergencies. But as the governor of North Dakota declared a state of emergency in 2017 so as to evict protesters at the Oceti Sakowin protest camp.
At the Butterfly Center, protesters descended upon the levee just before noon, where they had another gathering filled with native song, speeches by butterfly center officials and Mancias. “Ocelots, live forever!” Mancias chanted as the protest repeated after him. “Butterflies, live forever; human beings, should live forever.”
“We are this land, all of us that have been part of this land,” said the tribal chairman from the levee. “There was no north or south at that time” he said of the invisible lines called borders. “On that river, we have people on both sides of it,” Mancias said of his tribal nation that’s native to both sides of the river delta. He then spoke of how urbanization and gentrification is destroying our planet. The speeches were intermittently interrupted when a US Border Patrol SUV accompanied a group of a few border wall sympathizers, a couple of whom rode in a blue Ram pickup truck, while others rode on John Deer ATVs.
An older, white gentleman, who drove the Ram pickup truck, stepped outside the vehicle and had an exchange with Treviño Wright after he said ‘how about we build that wall’, leading the NBC Director to rejoin by pointing to the fact that access to the levees would be lost. The Border Patrol unit drove around the rally, and the other vehicles followed suit, making their disagreements with protesters known as they drove by.
On Tuesday, Trump implored Democrats to accept a “common sense proposal to end the crisis on the southern border.” It would include humanitarian assistance, law enforcement, drug detection at ports of entry, closing child smuggling “loopholes”, and “plans for a new physical barrier or wall to secure the vast areas between ports of entry.”
Trump vowed to complete the walling off of the southern US border, citing cases in San Diego and El Paso where border crossings decreased after the building of border barriers, as argument for additional border wall funding. Border communities rejected Trump’s use of their cities as examples for his rhetoric.
Únete went down to the butterfly center and wildlife refuge Wednesday morning and did not see any clearing of vegetation or construction, although some equipment arrived at the refuge that morning, as spotted by the butterfly center.
While the country debates border wall funding amidst potentially another government shutdown later this month, many ignore the communities who’ve already been slated to receive them, at the expense of their private property, environmental and human rights.
The Rio Grande Delta community came out, ending the march on the Butterfly Center's levee, where participants spoke their truth in a heartfelt way. Those who participated in the march Monday want the country and world to join them in standing up for their right to a revitalized, not militarized, society.
Únete will continue reporting on border wall construction and the resistance to it in the Rio Grande Delta.
Correction: An earlier version of this report stated that the National Butterfly Center filed an emergency restraining order Wednesday. As of Thursday, 7 February 2019, the National Butterfly Center has not filed the legal action.