Courtesy / National Butterfly Center
If I ever pulled up to our Llano River ranch road to find a work crew, heavy machinery, pink flagged survey stakes, and trees slashed to the ground, I'd likely grab my husband's shotgun.
But Marianna Treviño Wright, director of the National Butterfly Center (NBC), has more self-control than me. She peacefully, but forcefully, ordered five contractors off the 100-acre private property owned by the NBC in Mission, Texas, along the U.S.-Mexico border. Then she took to the media.
Wright told local reporters that the NBC received no notices or requests for access to the property despite "no trespassing" signs being prominently displayed. According to a story in the Mission Progress Times, the crew wielded chainsaws, two mechanized brush cutters, and other pieces of heavy machinery. They told her they were on assignment from the Tikigaq Construction firm in Point Hope, Alaska. Their job: mark a 150-foot clearance for President Trump's border wall.
“Just about every type of wildlife is here," Wright told Progress Times reporter José de Leon III. "This habitat is rich and diverse ...What will happen to them if the wall is built here?”
Next door to Wright at the 2,000-plus acre Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, planning for Trump's border wall has been underway for months. According to a July 14 story in the Texas Observer, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have been meeting quietly with private contractors to plot out the first piece of Trump’s border wall here for half a year. Plans call for 28 miles of a new levee wall system in the Rio Grande Valley and 32 new miles of border wall system. An 18-foot levee wall will stretch for almost three miles right through the Santa Ana wildlife refuge. Construction at Santa Ana could begin as early as January 2018, a federal official who asked to remain anonymous told the Observer.
Designated by the federal government in 1943 as a sanctuary for migratory birds and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Santa Ana straddles the Rio Grande and is considered one of the most diverse ecosystems left in the United States. Along with the National Butterfly Center and the Bentsen State Park, the natural areas collectively provide habitat for the endangered ocelot, the jaguarundi, coyotes, bobcats, armadillos, and 400 species of birds.
Known as one of the top birding destinations in the world, Santa Ana is being sacrificed precisely because of its federally protected status. Since the U.S. government owns it, it won't be subjected to lawsuits from private landowners like Wright and the NBC. As another story in the Texas Observer noted in June, one-third or more of 320 condemnation suits filed against private landowners to build a wall in 2007 are still unresolved.
In contrast, the NBC is a project of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA), a privately funded nonprofit organization. Like its Santa Ana neighbor, the NBC is devoted to the conservation of wildlife – specifically wild butterflies in their native habitats. The NBC features a native species garden, walking trails, observation areas, educational exhibits, and a plant nursery.
In a video posted on Generosity.com on July 22, Wright describes the flagrant disregard for the rule of law exercised by the work crews.
"They flat-out ignored the private property sign and began work clearing trees along our road and the Rio Grande River," she stated in the video.
"You may have heard about what's happening with the Trump border wall and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge," Wright said, her voice rising as she refers to her government-employed neighbors. "Well those people can't talk to you. But we can. And I'm gonna show you what's about to be lost. And how the government is operating."
She chronicles the violations and encourages contributions to a legal fund set up to fight it. "This is not just about the butterflies," the Generosity.com campaign states. The federal government "will do as it pleases with our property, swiftly and secretly, in spite of our property rights and right to due process under the law."
Wright describes the future loss of habitat that will result when "thousands of acres, 38 miles of river between Bentsen State Park and Santa Ana Wildlife will be cleared for this border wall that people climb over. A border wall that already exists in places...It's barely a deterrent."
Calling the border wall a waste of taxpayer dollars and an environmental disaster, Wright concluded what those living in South Texas know well: border walls don't stop illegal immigrants. We've had one, with gaps and gates, for years.
According to the American Immigration Council, approximately 650 miles of border fence already exist as of early 2017. We have 350 miles of primary pedestrian fencing, 300 miles of vehicle fencing, 36 miles of secondary fencing behind the primary fencing, and 14 miles of tertiary pedestrian fencing behind the secondary fence. These barriers run the gamut from tall metal and concrete posts to solid corrugated steel walls, metal fencing, and combinations thereof. Then there are surveillance tools – towers, cameras, motion detectors, thermal sensors, stadium lighting, ground sensors, and drones. This montage of deterrents comprises the existing infrastructure aimed to stop the unauthorized entry of people, drugs, and arms into the United States.
But as former Department of Homeland Security Secretary under President Barack Obama Jeh Johnson said in a November 2016 speech: “We can spend billions of dollars to build a 10-foot wall on top of a 10,000-foot mountain. But if you’ve come all the way from Central America, it’s not going to stop you.”
Last weekend, as Wright posted her video, dozens, perhaps hundreds of illegal immigrants who tunneled, hiked, swam or waded across our border were discovered packed in a tractor-trailer in a San Antonio Walmart parking lot. The temperature climbed to 104 degrees here on Saturday, and was likely higher on hot asphalt.
When a Walmart employee noticed people streaming from the back of the truck, he provided assistance and called 911. Several people were already dead; more than 20 were sent to local hospitals with extreme dehydration, asphyxiation, and other health issues. By Monday 10 people had perished.
Wright is right: It's not just about the butterflies. Nor is it just about property rights. It's about much much more than that.
For more information about the National Butterfly Center's Stop Trump's Border Wall Legal Defense Fund campaign, click here.