Protegiendo Nuestra Tierra: Communities stand against the border wall

Updated: Feb 20, 2019

PHOTO: © 2018 Alan Pogue

by: Clarissa Riojas, No Border Wall Coalition

It is a humid, August morning and nearly 1,000 activists are gathered at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Mission.

A man holds a processional banner with a hand painted image of the meandering Rio Grande River. It reads: “Salvar Nuestro Rio.” Mothers tightly secure hats onto their children as they prepare to brave the sweltering, summer solazo. Groups of young people anxiously wait in line to receive their attire for the day’s event, white cotton shirts with the words “NO BORDER WALL” etched in shiny, black ink.

The Save the Mission! Save the River! Resist the Wall! event at La Lomita became Texas’s largest demonstration against the border wall to date. That morning, border residents marched a four mile long procession to the sacred La Lomita Chapel, a Texas cultural and historic landmark slated for border wall construction. 3 Together, they voiced opposition to a threat that has loomed over our communities since the passage of the Secure Fence Act of 2006.3 Now in the era of Trump, the Rio Grande Valley faces an expansion of current walls despite lower rates of immigration and consistently being named as one of the safest communities in the nation. 12

By Alan Pogue

The march at La Lomita launched a grassroots effort that has since transfigured into a locally driven movement to stop the border wall. RGV No Border Wall is a collective of community activists and organizers that draws from various spheres of activism, including the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club, La Union del Pueblo Entero, Stonewall Democrats, and the Democratic Socialists of America. The working coalition is committed to resisting the many social, environmental, and economic impacts of the border wall. Together, they are working to combat militarization of our border and border communities.

By Alan Pogue As the movement enters 2018, activists are looking for new ways to draw attention to the threat of another Valley treasure: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. In December, Chief of the Rio Grande Border Patrol Sector Manuel Padilla revealed that if Congress votes to provide the Trump Administration with funding for 60 miles of the new border wall, the first segment will be built through the federally owned Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.11 Much of the land along the Texas-Mexico border is privately owned, and many landowners are prepared to take the government to court if their property is selected as a site for potential border wall construction. The refuge has caught the eye of government officials because it is federally funded, making it a feasible target.13

By Alan Pogue Santa Ana is considered a crown jewel of the refuge system, a home to over 400 different types of bird species and half of all butterfly species in the United States.6 It is also serves as a migratory corridor for the elusive Ocelot, an endangered wildcat whose existence has been driven to near extinction due to hunting and loss of habitat. Established in 1943, the refuge is regarded as one of the most popular bird-watching destinations in the country and attracts an estimated 165,000 visitors a year.1 Bird-watchers flock to the site hoping to catch a glimpse of birds such as the Altamira Oriole and Green Jay.1 Now, many environmentalists and community members are concerned that they may lose access to this pristine, ecological sanctuary if the Trump Administration is given the green light to continue with plans for a new border wall. The 18-foot-high barrier is due to be built atop a levee just south of the Visitor’s Center, potentially restricting entry into the main refuge. 10

By Alan Pogue A wall at Santa Ana will pose hazardous flooding conditions for the area, threatening the survival of native plant and wildlife that the refuge works so diligently to protect. In the event of torrential rain, many terrestrial animals would be unable to find safety as a concrete levee-wall would barr access to dry, elevated land.8 In 2010, the refuge experienced severe flooding and was underwater for four months as a result.6 If the site were to flood again, the wall would act as an obstruction and would likely have detrimental impacts on the existence of species such as the endangered Texas tortoise.8 The Trump Administration is currently requesting $1.6 billion to construct new walls in the Rio Grande Valley.9 If the project is funded, the loss of Santa Ana would deal a devastating blow to ecotourism, an industry that contributes $463 million to the local economy and sustains 6,613 jobs annually.10 In addition to Santa Ana, the projected path of border wall is expected to wreak havoc on other prominent ecotourism attractions, such as the National Butterfly Center, Roma World Bluffs Birding Center, and the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. The destruction of these sites would ultimately sabatoge an economy built on the preservation of the region’s native habitat.10

By Alan Pogue The fate of Santa Ana depends on whether Congress votes in favor of a budget proposal that would allocate funds towards new border security measures. The immigration bill will also seek to address the legal status of Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants once safeguarded by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In September, the Trump Administration terminated the program’s protection, stipulating that any future legislation to legalize Dreamers include funding for additional fencing, technology, and personnel along the southern border.5

By Alan Pogue The Rio Grande Valley is raising its voice in response to the administration’s attack on the region. On January 27th, over 700 people attended the coalition’s Stop the Wall: Rally to Save Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. The rally featured prominent national and local community figures speaking out on the ways a border wall would impact migration, immigrant communities, the local economy, and the environment. Among the speakers were Congressmen Filemón Vela, DACA recipient Allyson Duarte, and President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association Geoffrey Hackett. The event shone a light on the concerns of many valley residents, who were urged to contact their Congress representatives and become involved in community efforts.

By Alan Pogue Time to protect Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is running out. In early January, congressman Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez voted in favor of a Continuing Resolution that failed to shield Dreamers and their families from deportation and prevent further militarization of our border.14 Valley constituents must continue to demand that their representatives voice strong support for a Clean Dream Act that does not include additional funding for border security.

By Alan Pogue You can find your representative by visiting here. Additionally, RGV No Border Wall is seeking activists committed to fighting border militarization. Meetings are held weekly, and you can find the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club and RGV No Border Wall Unofficial Coalition on Facebook for details regarding upcoming events and outreach actions.

By Alan Pogue

Endnotes: 1.“About the refuge: Wildlife habitat.” US Fish and Wildlife Service. Last updated May 14, 2013.

2. “A border wall through south Texas would be an environmental tragedy.” Dallas News. August 15, 2017.

3. Julian Aguilar. “Anti-wall activists march to protect church in Rio Grande Valley.” The Texas Tribune. August 12, 2017.

4. Julian Aguilar and Alexis Ura. “Border Communities have lower crime rates.” The Texas Tribune. February 23, 2016.

5. Mike DeBonis and Erica Werner. “Senate passes stopgap spending bill, allowing Congress to avert partial government shutdown.” The Washington Post. December 21, 2017.

6. Asher Elbein. “Field Notes from Santa Ana.” Texas Observer. October 23, 2017.

7. Tal Kopan. “Trump ends DACA but gives Congress a window to save it.” CNN. September 5, 2017.

8. Jose Saenz. “Local Organizations Preparing To Fight the Construction of The Border Wall.” RGV Proud. January 1, 2018.

9. Laura Meckler. “Trump Administration Seeks 18 Billion Over Decade to Expand Border Wall.” The Wall Street Journal. January 5, 2018.

10. Aaron Nelsen. “Homeland security targets wildlife refuge for first part of new border wall.” San Antonio Express News. July 18, 2017.

11. Christian Von Preysing. “Wildlife refuge site selected as start of border wall construction.” KRGV. December 13, 2017.

12. Miriam Valverde. “Jorge Ramos: Border Communities some of the safest in the United States.” Politifact. May 17, 2017.

13. Ted Williams. “Paradise Lost.” Audubon. July/August 2008. Lorenzo Zazueta-Castro. “Immigrant advocates denounce congressman for ‘inability to protect Dreamers’.” The Monitor. January 19, 2018.

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