Butterfly Center, Chapel Spared in Bill Funding New Border Barrier in Rio Grande Valley

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A truck rolls on the levee road past La Lomita chapel.

Brendan Gibbons / Rivard Report

A truck rolls on the levee road past La Lomita chapel.

A proposed compromise bill in Congress would spare the National Butterfly Center and other key areas in the lower Rio Grande Valley from border wall construction, though President Donald Trump signaled Thursday that he plans to declare of a state of emergency to pursue more wall funding anyway.

Language in a proposed federal appropriations bill included $1.375 billion in additional funding for “pedestrian fencing,” including along levees that hold back floods on the Rio Grande River. Congressional staffers said earlier this week the funding would be used for 55 miles of barrier in the Rio Grande Valley.

The bill specifically carves out exceptions for the butterfly center, La Lomita Chapel, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, all important conservation and tourism sites along the Texas-Mexico border in Hidalgo County. It also shields these areas from construction funded by previous acts of Congress.

But on Thursday, White House officials said Trump would sign the bill, but then declare a state of emergency, according to multiple media reports. This might allow him to bypass Congress to get wall funding.

National Butterfly Center executive director Marianna Treviño-Wright anticipated this scenario even before the White House announcement.

“Anyone who’s observed President Trump over the last two years understands that [the compromise bill] may not happen,” Treviño-Wright said in a Thursday morning interview. “First of all, he has to sign the bill, then he has to not declare a state of emergency and try to ride roughshod over Congress.”

Since July 2017, the National Butterfly Center has been in a legal battle with the federal government, most recently asking a judge to grant a restraining order to stop contractors and U.S. Customs and Border Protection from going onto the center’s property. In a legal filing, attorneys for the center accused CBP officials and contractors of driving vehicles and heavy machinery across the center’s property, blocking its southern entrance, and cutting off its gate locks and replacing it with their own, among other allegations.

Under construction contracts previously funded by Congress, contractors working for CBP have begun working on federal wildlife refuge tracts located near the butterfly center. On Thursday, heavy equipment was cutting down vegetation on La Parida Banco National Wildlife Refuge tract less than two miles west of the butterfly center, Treviño-Wright said. One activist and photographer posted a video on Facebook Live showing Border Patrol and law enforcement vehicles gathered on the levee road.

In an email, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, Acting Deputy Director of Media Carlos A. Diaz confirmed that “early construction activities have started, such as site preparation activities,” on the approximately six miles of levee wall for which CBP awarded a $145 million contract in November.

Of the 273 miles of border in the CBP’s Rio Grande Valley sector, 55 miles has some form of fencing. Diaz called those 55 miles “only a quarter of the total requirement for impedance and denial” and said that the region “lacks the infrastructure required to meet the operational requirements in this area.”

“Vast patrol area in the [Rio Grande Valley] prevents manpower and technology alone from meeting [Border Patrol’s] operational requirements, necessitating investment in the continuous impedance and denial capability that border wall system provides, particularly in locations where illegal border crossers can quickly vanish into border communities,” Diaz wrote.

Asked whether CBP had considered the wall’s effect on species like the Texas tortoise, Texas horned lizard, and Texas indigo snake that could become trapped on the other side of the wall during floods of the Rio Grande, Diaz said they had.

“CBP has been working closely with the Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop and implement design elements into the levee wall that address the potential risk of these species during flood events, as well as identify design elements in levee wall that allow for animal migration,” Diaz wrote. He did not specify which design measures he was referring to.

The bill unveiled late Wednesday would prevent funding this year or in prior years from being used to build border barriers at the butterfly center and four other listed areas, including the Vista del Mar Ranch tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge east of Brownsville. That land is earmarked for SpaceX’s commercial spaceport, according to information from the office of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo).

Cuellar was one of 17 Republicans and Democrats in Congress who hammered out the deal in an attempt to avoid a partial federal government shutdown. The bill would require U.S. Customs and Border Protection to reach agreements “regarding the design and alignment” of barriers with local officials in the towns of Roma, Escobares, Rio Grande City, La Grulla, and Salineño. The five towns are in Starr County and in areas that could see new barrier construction.

Cuellar called the bill a “big win for the Rio Grande Valley” in a statement Thursday.

“I worked hard to include this language because protecting these ecologically-sensitive areas and ensuring local communities have a say in determining the solutions that work for them is critical,” Cuellar continued. “I know we can secure the border in a much more effective way, and at a fraction of the cost, by utilizing advanced technology and increasing the agents and properly equipping them on the border.”

Treviño-Wright said the center would go ahead with its lawsuit despite what happens with the bill.

“We’ve learned that we can’t let our guard down,” she said. “I think we’ve learned how really tenuous our standing is … as private citizens, as a nonprofit organization, that this administration and this Department of Homeland Security has an agenda, whether that’s inflicting maximum trauma on innocent children, or confiscating private property without due process. We’ve got to stay alert. America has to wake up and stand up against this.”

22 thoughts on “Butterfly Center, Chapel Spared in Bill Funding New Border Barrier in Rio Grande Valley

  1. If a large group 200-300 or more or a small caravan of a few thousand comes through the Butterfly Center they are going to trample it. It is very easy to relocated plants that the butterflies are attracted to rather than track down illegal immigrants who come to the US with the intention to commit crimes BEFORE they commit a crime against US citizens.

    How many butterflies or church services EQUAL the rape and murder of 1 child in the US? The Chapel has already been destroyed and entirely rebuilt and relocated before (due to the Rio Grande flooding in the past and a storm).

  2. Birds are very adaptable and can fly over most walls. Did you know that feral cats, pet cats allowed outside kill more than 500 MILLION birds a year and buildings with windows without something on the windows to stop the reflections kill 97 to 976 MILLION birds a year exponentially more than solid walls? Windows and reflective glass tricks birds into their death while birds understand walls, evidently walls don’t just peacefully and nonviolently communicate boundaries in every language on earth but also very successful in most of the bird dialects on earth too. (Windows and glass estimated to kill 97 to 976 million birds/year – Millions of houses and buildings, with their billions of windows, pose a significant threat to birds. Birds see the natural habitat mirrored in the glass and fly directly into the window, causing injury and, in 50% or more of the cases, death.” https://www.sibleyguides.com/conservation/causes-of-bird-mortality/ Domestic and Feral Cats – may kill 500 million birds per year or more. More information can be found at The American Bird Conservancy.) If you don’t have tape on the windows of your home and the buildings you work at and if you allow your cats to go outside or your overlook any stray cats that should be brought to a shelter, then you cannot any longer advocate against a border wall in the Rio Grande Valley for the birds or butterflies because it is just hypocritical. Cats kill butterflies like birds.

    • Glennon, Thanks for speaking the truth about the situation. I’d rather not have some acres of the Butterfly Center (they won’t lose all the center, just a portion would have been fenced off) than accept 50,000 plus illegal aliens into the USA each month. 1,000,000 children of illegal immigrants in Texas schools and more than 1,000,000 children of illegal immigrants in California schools is the real reason for the overcrowding and the difficult learning environment for all children. It is the reason for the high property taxes to pay for the extra students in the schools, extra buses, extra teachers for students who only know Spanish. It is very difficult to learn a subject in a school in the USA if you don’t speak English and it is also difficult for students whose parents pay the taxes for the schools to learn when they can’t hear the teacher over all the talking and joking between students in Spanish. Gangs don’t make the schools or communities better either. Both the Mexican gang and the MS-13 were actually started in California. If the USA had a secure border then both of those gangs would not have been started at all.

  3. I like that these areas are being spared, but do see a need for barriers where appropriate. Excessive foot traffic also has negative impacts on native vegetation and the creatures that live there. Having the flow of migrants funneled to the ports of entry makes so much more sense and will help protect ecologically sensitive areas and the migrants too. Thank you.

    • The La Lomita Chapel is not the original, it was already relocated and completely rebuilt. It can easily be relocated again if necessary. Other historical building in both Texas and Tenn have been relocated without harm coming to them including the Alamo.

    • The Rio Grande Sector had 137,000 illegal border crossers (roughly 375 per day), 260,000 pounds of marijuana (roughly 712 pounds per day), and 1,192 pounds of cocaine (roughly 3.3 pounds per day) caught coming over the border in FY 2017. That is a problem. That is more border crossers caught crossing than students in Dallas or San Antonio school districts.

  4. There have been 39 homicide convictions of illegal aliens-people that were caught and convicted-in Texas in 2018 which should be just as important as school shootings and global warming to politicians (Cato Institute senior immigration policy analyst Alex Nowrasteh). More US citizens are killed each year by illegal immigrants than by shoot shootings. How many US citizens died because of global warming in 2018? Drugs flow over the open areas of the border because what is seized at the ports is not sold to the general public that is simply what is caught.

  5. convicted-in Texas in 2018 which should be just as important as school shootings and global warming to politicians (Cato Institute senior immigration policy analyst Alex Nowrasteh). More US citizens are killed each year by illegal immigrants than by school shootings. How many US citizens died because of global warming in 2018? Drugs flow over the open areas of the border because what is seized at the ports is not sold to the general public that is simply what is caught.

  6. Thank you Rep Cuellar for keeping these areas and US citizens out of no man’s land. I suggest that more patrol boats be used on that part of the river to keep illegals from touching US soil. The barriers now are at least several blocks from the banks in many places.

    • Rep Ceullar is against using a barrier or fence which is very effective in communicating in all languages, nationalities, and IQs that there is a boundary in between Mexico and the USA and that the USA would like potential citizens to use the legal means and ports of entry to come in. Quite frankly not using a physical barrier for the USA border is like putting a juicy steak (USA) on one side of a busy highway (representing the cartel and dangers in Mexico) and a hungry dog (poor countries) on the other. It is cruel.

  7. The La Lomita Chapel is younger than what they claim in many articles online because it was completely relocated and completely rebuilt due to flooding in the past. If completely relocating it and completely rebuilding it did not diminish it’s historical significance and religious meaning before then it wouldn’t hurt it now. The Alamo was also relocated, it is still the Alamo building. Surely the pastor of the church, the Catholics, doesn’t want to have any innocent children in the US raped and killed by illegal immigrants.

  8. Rep Ceullar is against using a barrier or fence which is very effective in communicating in all languages, nationalities, and IQs that there is a boundary in between Mexico and the USA and that the USA would like potential citizens to use the legal means and ports of entry to come in. Quite frankly not using a physical barrier for the USA border is like putting a juicy steak (USA) on one side of a busy highway (representing the cartel and dangers in Mexico) and a hungry dog (poor countries) on the other. It is cruel.

  9. Thank God Democrat-in-name only Henry Cuellar for once got off his Republican happy place and did something decent and appropriate for his constituents, Texans and all Americans

  10. Folks coming from the south will not respect the Bentsen Center or the Bitterfly Center and will cross the border at sites away from the official points of entry . When visitors at those centers get hurt or worse get killed by the criminals embedded among those coming through these centers who will be responsible ? Cuellar ? Open border folks?

  11. In 2015 illegal immigrants were convicted of 51 homicides in Texas while legal immigrants were convicted of 15 homicides. According to a Cato study published in 2/2018 the homicide (murder) conviction rate for illegal immigrants in Texas is 3 per 100,000 while the homicide (murder) conviction rate for legal immigrants in Texas was 0.51 per 100,000. Conviction means they had to be reported, identified, arrested and then found guilty after due process by a judge or jury (so this does not include ALL the homicides (murders) committed by illegal immigrants in Texas in 2015.

    Illegal immigrants are 6 times MORE LIKELY to commit a homicide (murder) than a legal immigrant in Texas.

  12. Illegal immigrants are 6 times MORE LIKELY to commit a homicide (murder) than a legal immigrant in Texas.

    From 1955 to 2010 more than 25,064 undocumented immigrants have been arrested for homicides according to Snopes.com, this is roughly 456 arrests of illegal immigrants, aliens, for homicides against mostly US citizens per year.

    If US citizens were going to Mexico and killing 456 Mexicans on Mexican soil every year Mexico would put a stop to it.

    If US citizens were going to Honduras and killing 456 Hondurans on Honduran soil every year Honduras would put a stop to it.

    Every 5 years more Americans are killed by illegal immigrants than Americans killed in the Pearl Harbor attacks. Who are the main customers of Butterfly Centers and wildlife refuges? US citizens not illegal immigrants or Mexicans. Illegal immigrants are murdering and killing off the customers of these places. Need some common sense folks!

  13. Intelligent and kind people, whether Christian or Atheist, politician or pastor, Republican or Democrat, would be in support of measures including a border barrier as well as more border patrol agents and much better technology like devices to scan bodies in the field to identify mules.

  14. Does the US government continue to allow at least 450 Americans to be murdered each and every year, verified by Snopes.com (a minimum of 25,064 undocumented immigrants were arrested for homicides between August 1955 and April 2010), by illegal immigrants since 1955 to spare a Butterfly Center and a Chapel that serves about 50 people a week? The Chapel could be relocated, it has already been completely relocated and rebuilt before after a Rio Grande flood and after a bad storm. Does the Butterfly Center and La Lomita Chapel leaders not care about the Americans killed each year?

  15. The Department of Homeland Security has an agenda to protect US citizens from the illegal immigrants who seek to cross the border to bring drugs into the US and to murder hundreds of American citizens a year in their own homeland, their own country. The US government’s first duty should be to protect the lives of US citizens from threats of death and violence.

  16. Department of Homeland Security Mission: “The Department of Homeland Security has a vital mission: to secure the nation from the many threats we face. This requires the dedication of more than 240,000 employees in jobs that range from aviation and border security to emergency response, from cybersecurity analyst to chemical facility inspector. Our duties are wide-ranging, and our goal is clear – keeping America safe.”

    Statement by Nielson: “This is a crisis—pure and simple—and we need to respond accordingly. We cannot standby as our border security is further compromised and our immigration laws are exploited. Now is the time to act and to uphold our fundamental responsibility to our citizens and our nation to safeguard U.S. territory.”

  17. Let’s compare missions:

    Department of Homeland Security Mission: “The Department of Homeland Security has a vital mission: to secure the nation from the many threats we face. This requires the dedication of more than 240,000 employees in jobs that range from aviation and border security to emergency response, from cybersecurity analyst to chemical facility inspector. Our duties are wide-ranging, and our goal is clear – keeping America safe.”

    Statement by Nielson: “This is a crisis—pure and simple—and we need to respond accordingly. We cannot standby as our border security is further compromised and our immigration laws are exploited. Now is the time to act and to uphold our fundamental responsibility to our citizens and our nation to safeguard U.S. territory.”

    La Lomita Chapel Mission: To make the most tithes and fight the border fence. La Lomita Chapel doesn’t have a mission or agenda to protect the lives of American citizens or to protect the US immigration system from asylum fraud or economic migrants.

    Butterfly Center: To make the most income and now fight the border fence. The Butterfly Center doesn’t have a mission or agenda to protect the lives and safety of American citizens or to protect the US from invasions, exploitation, fraud of asylum claims, schools from overcrowding, or neighborhoods from crime.

    Who do you want making decisions on protecting the US border? Border security, La Lomita Chapel or the Butterfly Center?

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