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Archive for the ‘Border wall’ Category

Last Saturday dozens of Rio Grande Valley residents spent their morning showing their love for Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and World Birding Center. They gathered under the shade of beautiful Texas ebony trees to draw attention to the threat posed by the Trump administration’s border wall. This March Congress voted to pay for a levee-border wall that would split the state park in two, destroy acres of native forest, and wall off the state park’s entire trail system.

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At the center of the event were postcards sent by participants to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar, who represents the district in which Bentsen is located. They asked the two officials to advocate for the state park and save it from the destruction of the border wall and from possible closure. The crowd generated 113 postcards for each leader, and the campaign is still ongoing.

You can print your own Save Bentsen postcards here!postcard color_edited-1

In addition, local artists donated original drawings of plant and animal species commonly found in the park to create a Bentsen State Park bilingual Lotería. Kids and grownups alike took tours of the park with local naturalists and returned to color in those species on the Lotería card that they had sighted. There was a lot of excitement when one group spotted a Western diamondback rattlesnake, and birders were thrilled to see an Olive-sided flycatcher, just one of the hundreds of species of migrating birds that use Bentsen for a waystation on their journey across two continents.

When the guided tours returned, participants gathered to hear local naturalist and Sierra Club member Tiffany Kersten recount the story of when brothers Lloyd, Sr. and Elmer Bentsen agreed to spare the park from the plow after they grew to appreciate the very ebony grove where the picnic was taking place, and how they donated the land to the state for the enjoyment of all Texans in 1944, with the state park officially opening in 1962.

Then Martha Garcia of the Environmental Awareness Club at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley talked about how her first experience at Bentsen on a school fieldtrip reminded her of her family’s first home in Tamaulipas, México and the importance of being able to connect with that natural heritage.

Border wall expert and Sierra Club member Scott Nicol explained how the levee-border wall would cut off the trails from the Visitor Center and how the plans called for chopping down the native forests 150 feet south of a levee-border wall to create a gravel-covered “enforcement zone.” He also spoke about the danger of the park being shut down for good, noting that the trail system connected to another World Birding Center—the one at Hidalgo Pumphouse in the City of Hidalgo–had been walled off in 2009 and was no longer accessible to the public.

The event wrapped up with families picnicking under the ebonies, whose beauty had compelled the Bentsen brothers to save the forest here for us. The question is, what will we save for future generations?

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save santa ana bumpersticker

On Saturday, January 27th people from all over the country will gather in the field outside Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, which is threatened by Trump’s border wall. They will be joining South Texans in taking a stand against the terrible damage that border walls will cause to border communities and the borderlands.

If you are not able to get to Santa Ana for the rally, please commit to participate in one or more of the following solidarity actions this week. Click on the links for details:

Spreading the word on social media

Making calls to Congress

Writing a letter to the editor

Santa Ana Solidarity postcard party

There are lots of talking points available in this toolkit. You can also direct questions to dan.millis@sierraclub.org. Thank you very much for standing in solidarity with Santa Ana and with South Texans in opposition to the border wall.

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Krista Santa Ana

The fight to stop Trump’s damaging border wall is starting in Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, and local organizers are asking people around the country to come to South Texas to join in a rally and concert immediately next to the refuge entrance on Saturday, January 27 from 11 am to 2 pm.

The Trump Administration has announced that if Congress allocates funding for the border wall, the first wall will be built through Santa Ana, flattening acres of habitat, degrading its value to wildlife and ecotourism, and possibly even leading to the closure of the refuge.

Home to more than 400 species of birds and located within the territory of endangered cats like the ocelot and jaguarundi, Santa Ana has been called the “jewel” of the National Wildlife Refuge System because of its stunning diversity. For 75 years it has protected some of the last remaining riparian habitat along the lower Rio Grande River.  Walling through it would be a national tragedy.

The event is being organized in an effort to raise awareness of the imminent threat to Santa Ana and the devastating impacts of any border walls and other security measures on the natural environment in the borderlands, on people’s private property, on important cultural and historical sites, and on border communities. Local organizers want to send the message that border communities are among the safest in the nation and that the push for more border security is based on xenophobic fear rather than reality. They believe that DACA recipients, 1 out of 5 of whom live in the border region, deserve a Clean Dream Act to protect them from deportation and offer them a stable future.

The rally is being held in conjunction with Santa Ana NWR’s 75th anniversary celebration and will feature speakers, musicians, and food, as well as ways to take action. There will also be organized activities in the refuge next door, which is offering free admission for the day.

Please help us distribute flyers for the event: Santa Ana Rally Poster English / handbill version and Santa Ana Rally Poster Spanish/ handbill version Spanish

The event is also listed here on Facebook.

Thank you to our supporting organizations:

ACLU Texas
Action South Texas
Aqui Estamos RGV
AWIA
Border Action Network
bridges across borders
Call to Action-Rio Grande Valley
Center for Biological Diversity
Coalición de Derechos Humanos
Conservationist Wild Rivers Commottee
Defenders of Wildlife
Earthjustice
Friends of Friendship Park
Friends of Laguna Atascosa NWR
Frontera Audubon
Garcia & Garcia Attorneys at Law
Humane Borders
La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE)
Neta
PFLAG Harlingen
Proyecto Azteca
Resist the Wall
Sierra Club
Sierra Club Borderlands
Southwest Environmental Center
Texas Civil Rights Project
Wildlands Network
#PoetsAgainstWalls

To be listed as a supporter for the Save Santa Ana Rally fill out this form.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACLU Texas
Action South Texas
Aqui Estamos RGV
AWIA
Border Action Network
bridges across borders
Call to Action-Rio Grande Valley
Center for Biological Diversity
Coalición de Derechos Humanos
Conservationist Wild Rivers Commottee
Defenders of Wildlife
Earthjustice
Friends of Friendship Park
FRiends of Laguna Atascosa NWR
Frontera Audubon
Garcia & Garcia Attorneys at Law
Humane Borders
La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE)
Neta
PFLAG Harlingen
Proyecto Azteca
Resist the Wall Community Coalition                                                                                                Sierra Club
Sierra Club Borderlands Team
Southwest Environmental Center
Texas Civil Rights Project
Wildlands Network                                                                                                       #PoetsAgainstWalls

If you are interested in being listed as a supporting organization, please fill out this form.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LRGV Sierra Club’s Jim Chapman reading the letter before the Hidalgo County Commission

Valley organizations have presented a letter to Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling asking them to rescind their support for levee-border walls in Hidalgo County. The letter comes as a response to letters that both men sent to federal officials suggesting that, although they were opposed to the border wall, Hidalgo County would welcome a combination levee-border wall. The full text and signators of the letter are below.

If you would like to add your name to a petition against the levee-wall plan, you may do so at http://bit.ly/2niBHOH

Dear Judge Garcia and Mayor Darling:

We the undersigned urge you to reconsider your support for the levee-border wall plan, to withdraw your offer to Congress and the Department of Homeland Security to help build them, and to actively and vocally oppose all border walls, including border walls built into levees.

As you have acknowledged numerous times, border walls do not make our communities here in Hidalgo County more secure. The crime rates in Texas border cities are already among the lowest in the nation. Most of the people who cross the border without documents are immigrants and refugees who do not pose a threat to us. Furthermore, walls do not stop people from crossing. The Government Accountability Office recently reported that Customs and Border Protection has never shown that border walls have any impact on rates of smuggling and immigration. But they can push migrants into crossing at more dangerous points along the border where too many suffer tragic deaths from dehydration and exposure.

We have been advised by International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) that all of the flood-control levees along the Rio Grande in Hidalgo County have already been repaired and certified.  They have been or will soon be submitted for certification by IBWC. We do not need the levee-walls that you are proposing in order to keep us safe from floods. The County does have real drainage challenges, including many colonias with localized flooding, but those will not be addressed by building extraordinarily expensive border walls into the river levees.

The map created by Dannenbaum Engineering does not take in account the homes, farms, and nature parks which would be impacted by the levee-wall. It simply draws a levee-wall along every section of the river levee where there is not already a wall. Therefore, you are proposing a plan without determining how Hidalgo County residents’ access to their homes and lands would be affected and how this would impact their property values.

The proposed levee wall also slices through the most visited nature parks in the County: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park. Santa Ana is an ecotourism hotspot and the heart of the wildlife refuge system in the Rio Grande Valley, and Bentsen provides outdoor recreation opportunities for residents and tourists alike. Both parks are major hubs in our $460 million per year nature tourism industry. We already lost some of our parkland to the levee-wall when the Hidalgo Pumphouse hike and bike trail was walled off. Proposing a plan that could cut off these special places is irresponsible.

Levee-walls are especially devastating for wildlife and will strike a blow to the Lower Rio Grande Valley Wildlife Corridor that we have been working for almost 40 years to piece together. Terrestrial animals can move freely up and over levees, but an eighteen-foot solid concrete wall is an insurmountable obstacle. It will block them from access to habitat, water sources and mates. For this reason the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said that levee-walls are not compatible with our wildlife refuge lands.

Our organizations and the Hidalgo County residents we represent are very concerned about what the Trump Administration’s border and immigration policies could mean for our home. We do not want border walls. We do not want to see our communities and nature parks cut off and militarized.

Please respect the concerns of your constituents.  Rescind your letters and resist, not promote, Trump’s border walls.

Sincerely,

Jim Chapman

Executive Committee Member

Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club

Juanita Valdez-Cox

Executive Director

La Union del Pueblo Entero

Josué Ramirez

Lower Rio Grande Valley Co-director

Texas Low Income Housing Service

Karen Boward

President

Frontera Audubon

Sharon Slagle

President

Friends of the Wildlife Corridor

Lourdes Flores

President

A Resource in Serving Equality (ARISE)

Gerald Brazier

Chapter Leader

Call to Action-Rio Grande Valley

Martha Garcia

Secretary

Environmental Awareness Club at UTRGV

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Scott Nicol, Sierra Club Borderlands Team chair and LRGV Sierra Club Conservation co-chair, will be speaking at the University of Texas Pan American on April 25 about the flood risks and environmental damage that will come with new border walls slated for the Rio Grande floodplain.  Through Freedom of Infomation Act requests Scott has uncovered documents showing that Customs and Border Protection plans to condemn private lands and take parts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge to build these walls.  For years the US section of the International Boundary and Water Commission rejected these walls as posing too great a flood hazard to communities on both sides of the river, but a year ago they caved in to pressure from CBP and approved walls in the floodplain.

At 6pm on April 25 the Sierra Club will screen the 20 minute film Wild vs. Wall, followed by a discussion of the hazards posed by these new walls.  The event will occur at the UT Pan American Health Auditorium (HSHW 1.404), and is free and open to the public.  You can see a campus map here.

UT Pan American event  poster copy

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By Scott Nicol

Border wall through the LRGV National Wildlife Refuge

Border wall through the LRGV National Wildlife Refuge

I intend to tear this wall down and pass an immigration reform bill that’s an American solution to an American problem.”

Unfortunately, when Senator Lindsey Graham uttered those words a few days after the presidential election he was talking about the metaphorical wall between the Republican Party and Hispanic voters, not the physical walls that tear through the U.S. – Mexico borderlands.

Last summer the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 1505, waiving environmental laws in National Parks, Monuments, Forests, and Wilderness Areas within 100 miles of both borders for walls or anything else the Border Patrol could dream up.  In the run up to the election Republicans from Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket down to candidates for state offices called for making immigrants’ lives so miserable through measures like Arizona’s SB 1070 that they would “self-deport.”

 

Following the election, in which an overwhelming majority of Hispanic voters rejected Mitt Romney and Republican candidates, these same politicians feel a sudden sense of urgency to pass an immigration reform bill.

That bill will probably look a lot like the proposal that Senators Graham and Schumer were working on a couple of years ago, linking temporary work visas and a pathway to citizenship to increased border militarization.  That may sound familiar because it is the same formula that was used in 2006, when the US House and Senate passed competing immigration bills.  When the two bills could not be reconciled Congress pulled out the border security section and passed it as the Secure Fence Act.

Since then 649 miles of border wall have gone up, slicing through sensitive habitat from California’s Otay Mountain Wilderness Area to Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

As border walls went up in urban areas like San Diego and El Paso, crossers were “funneled” into the remote and fragile ecosystems of the Arizona desert.  Thousands have died there.

In south Texas border walls now roughly parallel the Rio Grande, ranging from a few hundred yards away to as much as two miles north of its banks.  These walls repeatedly bisect Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife refuge tracts and cut off the last vestiges of sabal palm forest protected by Audubon and the Nature Conservancy.  By blocking movement along the wildlife corridor, border walls may prove to be the final nail in the coffin for the ocelot in the United States.

Just this year the US section of the International Boundary and Water Commission caved in to pressure from Customs and Border Protection and unilaterally approved new walls in the Rio Grande floodplain, despite objections from Mexico.  If they are built these walls could have serious flood impacts on the communities of Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos in the United States, as well as their sister cities on the southern bank of the river.  They will also carve up more fragile refuge habitat.

This is why the Lone Star chapter continues to support the Sierra Club’s national Borderlands Team’s efforts to head off new damage, ensure that environmental laws are obeyed, and get mitigation for the harm that has already occurred.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform could either be a blessing or a curse for the borderlands.  Allowing immigrants to enter through the “front door,” paying the federal government  instead of a coyote and passing through a port of entry instead of climbing the wall and trekking through the desert, would reduce both the impacts of traffic on fragile ecosystems and the number of immigrants who die attempting to cross.  But if it repeats the old formula, adding more border walls and boots on the ground, it will exacerbate the damage to our borderlands.

We need a clean immigration bill, without more of the walls or waivers that do tremendous damage to border ecosystems year after year.

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To learn more about the environmental impacts of border walls and the work of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team visit www.sierraclub.org/borderlands

 

 

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By Scott Nicol

The U.S. half of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) has finally caved under pressure from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and approved border walls in the Rio Grande floodplain adjacent to Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos.

These three border wall sections, totaling 14 miles, were not built when other parts of the Rio Grande Valley were walled off because of the serious danger they pose to communities on both sides of the river.  On the U.S. side they could block the exit of flood water into the Rio Grande, bottling it up in towns and farm land and exacerbating the damage that they suffer.

They could also deflect flood waters towards Mexico, worsening flooding in Mexican communities.  Deflection might even cause the river to settle into a new channel farther to the south, which would effectively change the location of the border.

In an attempt to lessen the amount of water that these walls will deflect into Mexican cities CBP designed them to channel flood waters north into the U.S. cities that they abut.  The walls will begin close to the Rio Grande, where during a flood water would be split off from the main channel.  As the river bends the mostly straight walls get farther from them, meaning that floodwater, along with all of the debris and garbage it carries, will be channeled into properties in the United States that might otherwise be spared from flooding.

To make certain that water is channeled into the U.S. holes were planned for the middle of two of these wall sections – a 100 foot wide gap in the Roma wall, and a 275 foot wide gap in the Rio Grande City wall – explicitly intended to direct more water into these communities during a flood.

All three of the new border wall sections would also slice through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.  Established to create a wildlife corridor along the Rio Grande, the refuge provides habitat for critically endangered ocelot and jaguarundi.  Walls that have already been erected downriver repeatedly bisect and fragment the refuge, putting the future of the terrestrial species that it harbors in doubt.  The new walls would further fragment the refuge and cut off animals from the only reliable source of water in what US Fish and Wildlife has described as “some of the best habitat(s) in the U.S. along the final portion of the Rio Grande.

In a February 15, 2012 letter John Merino, Principal Engineer for the US section of the International Boundary and Water Commission gave CBP the green light to build these walls, saying, “the USIBWC has no objection to the erection of the fence segments within the limits of the Rio Grande floodplain.”  Merino dismissed the possibility that walls would deflect or obstruct flood waters, and stated flatly that USIBWC did not examine potential environmental impacts.  He failed to mention the fact that for the previous five years both the U.S. and Mexican halves of the bi-national International Boundary and Water Commission had rejected the idea of placing border walls in the floodplain.

Throughout 2007 and 2008 CBP tried without success to come up with a wall design for these last three sections that would not impact flooding, and that the IBWC would therefore approve.  Unable to convince the IBWC that walls in the floodplain would not act like dams, a DHS briefing from October 2, 2008, said of these three, “DHS likely to drop fence segments.

It would have made sense for Customs and Border Protection to decide that the Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos walls were not worth risking lives and property to build.  Or, if bureaucracy outweighed humanity in their thinking, they might have called off wall construction in order to comply with the international treaty.

They also could have based a decision to spare them on a June 2008 internal Customs and Border Protection document that stated that “The Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief has determined that operational areas that contain the PF225 fence segments such as O-1 to O-2, O-12 through O-14, and O-17 through O-21 to be in “effectively controlled” level at the current time.”  Segments O-1 and O-2 are the Roma and Rio Grande City walls.

Segments O-12 through O-14 are in Cameron County, near Los Indios.  Segments O-17 through O-21 encompass all of the wall sections in the vicinity of Brownsville, from the neighborhoods near the River Bend Golf Course west of town past the Sabal Palms Audubon Sanctuary and Nature Conservancy’s Southmost Preserve to the east.  Those who live in these areas and had their property condemned for border walls lost their land for nothing, because the local Border Patrol had determined that the area already under effective control before any walls were built.

The year after the assessment that these areas were “effectively controlled,” and before any walls were built, Border Patrol apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley dropped by 20%.  They have continued to decline every year since.

Of course decisions about who will get walls and who will be spared are made in Washington DC, not the Rio Grande Valley.

That simple fact helps to explain why Customs and Border Protection continued to press for these walls, shifting tactics from trying to convince Mexico that walls would not worsen flooding south of the border to pushing the US section of IBWC to allow for “unilateral” action – building walls in the face of Mexican objections, and thereby violating the international treaty.

After hurricane Alex roared into the Rio Grande Valley in 2010, followed by a tropical depression, the flooding Rio Grande forced the mandatory evacuation of Los Ebanos and parts of Rio Grande City.  With homes underwater and the evacuation order still in place, CBP hosted a meeting for the USIBWC and the State Department in Washington DC.

At the DC meeting Customs and Border Protection did not mention the ongoing floods that were inundating the sites of the proposed walls, or the Border Patrol sector chief’s assessment that the area was “effectively controlled.”  Instead, CBP said that the three remaining walls were “critical to our Nation’s security,” and since Mexico continued to insist that they posed a flood hazard “we need [US]IBWC and Department of State’s support for an unilateral decision to proceed with the fence construction.”

Throughout 2010 USIBWC consistently rejected unilateral action, pointing out the likelihood of “substantial increases in water surface elevations and deflections of flow at several points of all three projects.”

But in late 2011 USIBWC reversed itself.  John Merino, the US section’s Principal Engineer, wrote to his Mexican counterpart to say that US IBWC had “concluded that the project will not cause significant deflection or obstruction of the normal or flood flows of the Rio Grande.

The Mexican section of the IBWC responded in December of 2011, saying,

“…the location, alignment and design of the proposed fence represent a clear obstruction of the Rio Grande hydraulic area, since in the towns of Rio Grande City and Roma, TX, the fence would occupy nearly all of the hydraulic area on the U.S. side, causing the deflection of flows towards the Mexican side. If you consider that, given the design characteristics, the fence obstructs 60-70% of the hydraulic area in a direction perpendicular to the flow, and if you add to that the effect of the current retaining trash and debris, the significant length that is located in the floodplain, and the position of the fence relative to the direction of flow, the fence constitutes a serious obstruction and deflection of the Rio Grande flows towards Mexico. […] We reiterate our opposition to the construction of the proposed fence in the Rio Grande floodplain given the impacts stated above.”

Because the IBWC is a bi-national body, the rejection of one party should have brought this project to a halt.  Instead the US half of the IBWC approved the walls, allowing Customs and Border Protection to undertake the unilateral action that it had been pushing for.  This is a clear violation of the treaty that created both the IBWC and the border that Customs and Border Protection is supposed to protect.

But a treaty is just paper.  The real harm will come after the walls go up, when the next big storm roars into the Rio Grande Valley and the river floods.

This is why the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team and the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club group are calling upon Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to overrule her subordinates at the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission and reject these border walls.  Sierrans and anyone else who cares about the Rio Grande and its inhabitants and habitats can send her a letter by going HERE.

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