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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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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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