When Marianna Treviño-Wright heard of the passage of a house bill that funds construction of a border wall in the Rio Grande Valley, she was not surprised.
“It’s something that we were expecting for a while now,” she said.
As the executive director of Mission’s National Butterfly Center, Treviño-Wright has been an outspoken critic against border wall construction in the Valley. Her center entered the national spotlight last summer after she caught a group of men trespassing on the center on orders from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to clear land for the border wall, leading her to file a lawsuit against the federal government last December.
The butterfly center, she explained, is home to over 300 species of butterflies and also houses several endangered animals and plants. The border wall is expected to go through the center, cutting off two-thirds of the center’s 100 acres, effectively destroying the center.
“Less than five percent of our native habitat remains in Texas for our native wildlife,” Treviño-Wright said last summer. “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.”
Now, however, Treviño-Wright worries about other areas that will be affected by the border wall.
Among these areas include several Mission attractions such as 800-acre long Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park, the city’s namesake La Lomita Mission Chapel and local businesses such as the Riverside Club and Chimney RV Park, which are all expected to end up on the other side of the wall.
Other areas in the Valley expected to be affected include the Anzalduas County Park, Pharr Settling Basin, and the Cottam Tract in the city of Granjeno. In total, The 33 miles of wall won’t just fragment the dwindling wildlife habitat on the border — they’ll also create around 6,500 acres of “no man’s land,” cutting off human access to nature and trapping wildlife the next time the Rio Grande flood, according to Scott Nichols with the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club.
“People need to see what’s at stake here, there will be a lot of habitat destruction due to so many areas being cleared out,” Nichols said. “Now that there’s money appropriated for this construction, it will get harder to stop it.”The bill passed the House by a vote of 256-167 while it passed in the Senate by a vote of 65-32. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, voted in favor of the bill while Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, voted against it.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, voted in favor of the bill to prevent a government shutdown, he said Wednesday, adding that he is working with Cornyn on an appropriation bill that would exempt the Butterfly Center and Bentsen State Park from being affected by border wall construction.
“I’d rather see more technology and men and women patrolling the border instead of spending billions to construct a wall,” he said.
The one bright side of the spending bill, Nichols notes, is that it included language which exempted border wall construction on the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, a 2,000 – acre refuge that for months was eyed as the area to start border wall construction – sparking several protests.
“Santa Ana is saved and it shows that activism and reaching out to Congress does have an effect, but it’s disappointing that they didn’t get the larger message that we oppose border walls everywhere in the Valley,” Nichols said. “It wasn’t just Santa Ana we wanted to protect, it was La Lomita, the National Butterfly Center and other areas.”
Treviño-Wright notes that several of the areas in the city that will be affected are frequently visited by tourists and Winter Texans. She said she worries many visitors to the city won’t feel welcomed by the border wall construction.
“The loss of two major, well known and popular attractions that help in bringing money to the economy every year, is going to be felt,” she said. “There will be a negative economic and environmental impact that will be felt from the diverse venues we have.”
Mission City Manager Martin Garza agreed with her.
“Business and property owners will probably worry whether or not they should shut down or what they can do to not lose their investment,” he said in reference to the Riverside Club and Chimney Park RV Resort.
Earlier this week, the auction website J.P. King put up a listing for an online auction for Chimney Park that runs through Monday, April 16 at 1 p.m. Even though the owner of Chimney Park declined to comment, Garza said he was aware of the auction and assumed the border wall construction was the deciding factor in the park going on sale.
“We passed a resolution [last August] against the border wall and those sentiments are still there,” Garza said. “We want to support our local businesses as we can see that eco-tourists and Winter Texans come to the area because of sites like Chimney Park and the National Butterfly Center.”
Instead of a border wall, Garza said the city will push for other solutions that won’t involve infrastructure.
“Even though construction dollars has been set aside, we’ll still work with the Border Patrol to use more technology and personnel to secure those areas that create a big impact in the city of Mission,” Garza said, adding that arrests for illegal border crossings in the area are down, as evidenced by a December 2017 article from NPR that states Border Patrol arrests are at a 46-year low.
“We’ve been able to participate in securing our borders without a wall in place,” Garza said. “We’re reduced the amount of crossings and illegal activity within the river. While the border wall is a federal project, ultimately it’s not one the city is supporting. We’re behind our businesses.”