Fence planned in natural park
:Trump’s Border Barrier threatens butterflies in Texas
Luciano Guerra stands on a patch of earth on the banks of the Rio Grande, full of bushes and trees that could soon be no-man’s-land. It is a warm January day in the southern tip of Texas, on the other side of the river lies Mexico. For months it has not rained here, the ground is dry, the air smells a bit burnt. There is no soul to be seen far and wide, every now and then a butterfly flutters past, but not so many are on the way today because it is very windy. “All the land we are looking at here will be between the border wall and the river,” says Guerra.
The 62-year-old works for the National Butterfly Center, a private sanctuary in Mission, which covers 40 hectares on the banks of the river and home to hundreds of butterfly species as well as owls, hummingbirds, red cardinals, falcons and many other animals ,
It is a peaceful place, but the idyll is threatened. Because about two kilometers away from the riverbank, the government of US President Donald Trump will soon build a new border fence. He would go through the park and separate it into two parts. Construction could start later this month. It’s not about the wall, as Trump would like to build it on the border. The Democrats continue to vehemently deny him the money. Negotiations between the two parties have stalled, and another partial government deadlock is imminent unless agreement is reached by 15 February.
But in the budget for 2018, Congress has approved $ 1.6 billion (1.4 billion euros) for border patrol. These include building new barriers that would cover 53 kilometers and complement existing Texas fences. Democratic senators and MPs voted in favor, including Beto O’Rourke, a Texas native who has consistently criticized Donald Trump for his immigration policy.
The law, which approved the funding, explicitly requires that only proven construction methods can be used – this excludes the Wall Prototypes that Trump built in California. Shortly before the congressional elections last November, the republican government commissioned the construction of the barriers that would lead through the butterfly park. It would be one of the first new border fences under Trump. In order to build the section, the Department of Homeland Security has overturned several environmental laws in the area, including one that protects endangered species. The Ministry can do that; it relies on national security.
Massive effects on the butterflies
In the butterfly park, the barrier is to be built on a dike. According to the CBP, it consists of a concrete section on which five-meter steel bollards are to be erected. According to the butterfly park, the barrier could have a total height of ten meters. In addition, in a section of 45 meters along the fence, the vegetation is to be cleared, because this is intended as a zone that particularly control the border guards, as shown by a CBP message.
Luciano Guerra and his colleagues fear that this will have a massive impact on the birds and butterflies. “Many of the trees are host plants for butterflies,” he says. The conservationist is visibly frustrated. “We could lose 70 percent of our country,” he says. Guerra is Republican, voted in favor of Donald Trump in the 2016 election, and is against open borders. But he considers walls and fences the wrong way to secure them. And he has trouble following Trump when talking about a crisis on the border. That just does not agree. “It’s not dangerous down here and there is no crisis.” He himself had never felt threatened in the area. “We have Girl Scouts camping out here,” he says. “If it were as bad as he (Trump) says, I would not live here.” A Border Guard boat shoots across the river as he speaks.
The CBP believes that the barrier in the area is necessary. And those responsible for the Butterfly Park can not do much to stop the construction. The government in Washington can confiscate land that is privately owned. And legally, the authorities have the ability to expropriate the land even before a decision is made on compensation. Not only the butterfly park could be affected. The new barriers also threaten access to a historic chapel. Several other landowners have received letters from the government that their properties are to be inspected.
Texas authorities have already expropriated land
In the past, Texas authorities have expropriated land to build parts of the border barriers. There was a wave of legal proceedings.
Around 1,130 kilometers of the 1,344-kilometer US southern border with Mexico are already secured by fences and other barriers. The first barriers were built by the Border Guard in the 1990s, under then Democratic President Bill Clinton. His successors, the Republican George W. Bush and the Democrat Barack Obama, had the border guard continuously expanded.
Driving from the Butterfly Park in Mission along the Old Military Road to Brownsville in the south, you can not miss the steel barriers that already stand here. Sometimes they run close to the road, sometimes gaps open in them, sometimes they end abruptly, and then start again after kilometers. The fence runs along fields and meadows, jutting out between farmhouses and barns, winding past small cemeteries with colorful plastic flowers on their graves.
A decade ago, when George W. Bush set the barriers under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, there were 320 lawsuits, according to Terence Garrett of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The scientist tells the story of a university professor on whose land the authorities had the fence erected while she was at a conference. Garrett believes that this time there could be more resistance to the construction of the barriers. “People know what happened the first time,” he says. “There are very few people down here who want the wall.”
Not far from his office, near a parking lot, stands a part of the rust-brown steel fence. Two border guards are patrolling on bicycles. Butterfly Park’s management filed a lawsuit against the government in a Washington court in 2017. Those responsible argue that officials of the authorities illegally gain access to the land of the park and cause destruction when they inspected it. But the process is drawing.
A few days ago, the park published pictures on its Facebook page featuring an excavator and a tractor. A spokesman for the Border Guard says that they have started removing bushes, and the actual construction would start in mid-February. Should the border fence stand, this does not necessarily mean the end of the park, as Luciano Guerra explains. “Fortunately, we have twelve acres of land north of the dike that holds most of our gardens,” he says. But the rest of the country, which is more untouched and wild, will not be there anymore. The conservationist fears that even some moths could be affected. “People say that butterflies can fly over a wall. But not necessarily. Some butterflies fly quite deep. “(Dpa)