More than two months after its executive director found private contractors working with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection trespassing on their property, the National Butterfly Center announced last week they sent a certified letter to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection stating its intent to sue over the construction of a border wall on its private property.
The letter, dated Wednesday Oct. 4, alleges the construction is a violation of the center’s private property rights.
“We are providing you notice that the Department of Homeland Security and its component agency, U.S Customs and Border Protection, are in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act,” the letter states. “This letter additionally provides notice of unconstitutional taking caused by the Agencies’ unannounced and unauthorized interference with NABA’s property as well as consistent harassment of NABA’s employees and visitors on the basis of protected status.”
In July, Executive Director Marianna Treviño-Wright found a crew of five men from the Alaska-based Tikigaq Construction LLC firm with machinery who told her they were on orders from CBP to clear land for the border wall. She ran them off her property, she said.
“We were not notified of any work plans, nothing to give us warning about this construction,” she said at that time. “Who knows how long they’ve been here working.”
Since the incident, neither Treviño-Wright nor Jeffrey Glassberg, president of the North American Butterfly Association, have received any form of communication from any federal agency regarding the construction. This prompted the NABA board of directors to move forward with the lawsuit.
“The purpose is to get them to stop what they’ve been doing, which in our view is illegally taking our property without any legal justification,” Glassberg said. “In addition, CBP agents are harassing employees and visitors and creating a situation that makes it difficult to run a tourist attraction. Their presence upsets visitors and employees.”
A representative with CBP declined to comment for this story.
The notice was sent out on the same date the House Homeland Security Committee approved a border security bill that includes $10 billion for a border wall.
The Border Security for America Act, proposed by committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), includes the $10 billion in border wall funding, $5 billion to improve ports of entry and adds 5,000 agents to both the Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection.
The bill advances to the House but is unlikely to pass the Senate where it would need a 60-vote majority vote, according to the political website The Hill.
In the letter, the National Butterfly Center states that CBP and DHS are violating the Endangered Species Act by not studying the environmental consequences of the wall, consulting with agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or taking steps to conserve threatened and endangered species.
Treviño-Wright said border wall construction on the Butterfly Center would create an “environmental disaster.”
“Less than five percent of our native habitat remains in Texas for our native wildlife,” she explained. “Birds, butterflies and other animals are looking for natural landmarks as guides when they travel, not unnatural ones that obstruct their movement. Construction will desiccate them.”
According to Treviño-Wright and Glassberg, the letter accuses CBP of harrassment due to several incidents where CBP agents stopped NBC employees on the property. One such incident occurred in early July when three employees, one of whom had his two daughters with him, were surveying the property south of the NBC when they were suddenly surrounded by four CBP vehicles where agents demanded the employees present I.D.
“After that happened, I went to talk with a patrol agent about communication and behavior of agents in our property and was assured there would be better communication on their end,” Treviño-Wright said “And not even two weeks later, those contractors showed up unannounced clearing our land. The pattern of no communication with CBP is not new. It’s pervasive. We’ve heard nothing and have received no official communication, notice, anything regarding any plans for our property. We’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop. We expect to come in one morning and find construction on the border wall has commenced because they started it during the middle of the night.”