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Groups Protest Trump’s Border Wall in Rio Grande Valley

An observation platform sits above the tree canopy in the 2,088-acre Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Advocates say building a border wall through this area would destroy the habitat of endangered species and migrating birds. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

by Mark Richardson

MCALLEN, Texas – A coalition of immigration and conservation groups is planning a major protest over plans to build a portion of the border wall in the Rio Grande Valley.

The Trump administration already has begun site preparations for a 74-mile stretch of the wall in Hidalgo and Starr counties that would block much of the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.

Scott Nicol, co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Campaign, says even though the refuge is a haven for endangered species and rare birds, there are few legal remedies to stop the project.

“They have the authority, or at least the secretary of Homeland Security has the authority, to waive any laws – not just environmental laws,” Nicol states. “And so, when they do that, the Endangered Species Act doesn’t matter anymore. Anything they feel like they’re probably going to violate, they just waive and they don’t have to worry about any legal repercussions.”

Congress has yet to fully fund the wall, but Homeland Security has shifted money from other programs to begin the project as early as November.

Nicol says the wall, meant to stop illegal immigration and drug smuggling, would block endangered ocelots from crossing the Rio Grande and interfere with the migration of more than 400 species of birds.

Nicol says the wall would fill a gap in a border fence left a decade ago by the Bush administration designed to protect Rio Grande access to regional wild lands.

“Santa Anna National Wildlife Refuge is in the middle of a larger wildlife refuge system, the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which runs along the Rio Grande and creates a wildlife corridor for federally endangered ocelots,” Nicol stresses.

Nicol says he and other advocates believe there is no scientific or rational basis for building the wall.

“All this discussion about whether a border wall goes up or doesn’t go up is being made on a purely political basis,” he points out. “They’re trying to give Trump a win, ignoring the fact that they have no measurable impact on immigration or drug smuggling or anything else that they’re supposed to address.”

The coalition – including immigration activists with La Union Del Pueblo Entero and conservationists with Friends of the Wildlife Corridor – will stage their protest next Sunday at the refuge.

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