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More proposed funding for border wall endangers Lower Rio Grande Valley

Existing border wall along Otay Mesa/Tijuana border

The current border near Otay Mesa, California, and Tijuana, Mexico.

Budget negotiations continue in Washington, D.C., with Republican senators hoping to put together a package President Trump will sign, avoiding a government shutdown. Environmental and human rights organizations across the Southwest are concerned over the potential for $1.6 to $5 billion to be allocated to further border wall construction

Groups like the Southern Border Communities Coalition, a coalition of more than 60 organizations grappling with border issues, are concerned about the damage even the $1.6 billion compromise funding for a border wall would cause. More than 200 organizations sent a letter to the leadership of both the House and senate urging Congress to reduce funding for the Trump administration's border wall, militarization, and immigration enforcement policies.

"We cannot treat funding for immigration detention and enforcement or border wall construction like business as usual," the letter states. "This administration forcibly took more than 2,600 children from their parents at the border last spring. Over ninety days have passed since a court deadline to reunite these families and, still, over 50 children remain separated from their families. Any increase in funding for DHS for another fiscal year while children remain separated and while the administration contemplates turning refugee families away from the border on the basis of nationality is tantamount to absolving this administration’s despicable actions...

"We specifically ask you to reject all funding for President Trump’s border wall, including funding for new and expanded border fencing, barriers, levee walls, and conversion of vehicular to pedestrian barriers, in the FY 2019 appropriations process or other legislative vehicles. Border walls divide communities and tribal nations, cut through sensitive ecosystems, devastate the environment, threaten wildlife, eviscerate the rights of private property owners, cause catastrophic flooding, and contribute to thousands of migrant deaths. The Senate FY 2019 DHS appropriations bill contains $1.6 billion for wall funding—resources that would irremediably wall off virtually all of south Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. The $5 billion for border wall contained in the House FY 2019 DHS appropriations bill would cause even more harms to border residents’ homes, public lands and communities, not to mention American values. Any of these funds sought for the border wall is harmful and unnecessary.

"Given the border wall’s profound impacts, we implore you to do everything in your power to conduct urgently-needed oversight of the billions of border wall dollars identified by the Government Accountability Office as lacking cost-benefit and effectiveness analysis. Instead of wasting hard-earned taxpayer dollars on a costly and unnecessary wall, this funding could be used instead to improve schools, roads, and health clinics that communities in the border region and across the country desperately need. When deciding how to spend taxpayer funds in the southern border region, we urge you to do what DHS refuses to: consult with local leaders who know the needs of their communities."

Organizations that signed the letter include the American Civil Liberties Union, Al Otro Lado, American Federation of Teachers, American Friends Service Committee, Amnesty International USA, CASA, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders Earthjustice, Endangered Species Coalition, Franciscan Action Network, Frontera de Cristo, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Japanese American Citizens League, League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Sierra Club, Southern Poverty Law Center, Southwest Environmental Center, the SBCC, Wildlands Network, and others.

Read the full text of the letter HERE.

Trump's border wall prototypes near Otay Mesa, California, and Tijuana.

A Trump border wall prototype, as seen from Tijuana

Trump administration border wall prototypes along the U.S.- Mexican border in California.

There are strong concerns about new wall construction impacting sensitive environmental sites such as the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, part of the World Birding Center, in Texas. The park has recorded a list of 358 bird species within its boundaries, out of more than 525 species found in the Rio Grande Valley. The valley is home to numerous tropical bird species found nowhere else in the United States. It is a major bird migration corridor at the convergence of two major flyways, the Central and Mississippi.

The World Birding Center is a $20 million development along the border of the U.S. and Mexico, based on a partnership between the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Rio Grande Valley communities, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It consists of a network of nine unique birding sites along a 120-mile historic river road in the region, nearly all of which would be impacted by creation of new border wall construction.

It's not just birds that are in imminent danger from construction of a border wall in the area. The National Butterfly Center is located in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas and has put together a list of impacts a border wall will have on butterflies and birds in the region.

1) Eradicate an enormous amount of native habitat, including host plants for butterflies, breeding and feeding areas for wildlife, and lands set aside for conservation of endangered and threatened species-- including avian species that migrate N/S through this area or over-winter, here, in the tip of the Central US Flyway. 2) Create devastating flooding to all property up to 2 miles behind the wall, on the banks of the mighty Rio Grande River, here. 3) Reduce viable range land for wildlife foraging and mating. This will result in greater competition for resources and a smaller gene pool for healthy species reproduction. Genetic "bottlenecks" can exacerbate blight and disease. IN ADDITION: 4) Not all birds can fly over the wall, nor will all butterfly species. For example, the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, found on the southern border from Texas to Arizona, only flies about 6 ft in the air. It cannot overcome a 30 ft vertical wall of concrete and steel. 5) Nocturnal and crepuscular wildlife, which rely on sunset and sunrise cues to regulate vital activity, will be negatively affected by night time flood lighting of the "control zone" the DHS CBP will establish along the wall and new secondary drag roads. The expansion of these areas to vehicular traffic will increase wildlife roadkill. 6) Animals trapped north of the wall will face similar competition for resources, cut off from native habitat in the conservation corridor and from water in the Rio Grande River and adjacent resacas. HUMANS, here, will also be cut off from our only source of fresh water, in this irrigated desert.

The federal government has already granted contracts to build 33 new miles of border wall in Texas. While not the new model of 30 foot high solid wall that President Trump wants, this new wall consists of tall steel fencing, levees, barriers, lighting, roadway construction, and other barriers. A contract was announced this month for six miles of levee wall with bollard fencing along a current road that divides the National Butterfly Center.

“Once they come in with the bulldozers, all of this will be gone,” said NBC Director Marianna Trevino-Wright, in a report by KENS5 TV News. According to the report, Trevino-Wright has been fighting the wall for almost two years and has invested about $10 million in the center over its 16-year operation. She estimates the center will lose 70 percent of its land from wall construction.

The federal government waived 28 environmental laws in the process, Trevino-Wright noted, and a historical 150 year-old chapel will be left in a no-man's zone between the wall and the border. The Catholic Church is seeking a restraining order against the federal government, the report noted, citing infringement on religious freedom. The federal government is reportedly offering $100 for 65 acres in response.

The wall is set to break ground in February.

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