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Texas butterfly sanctuary files restraining order to stop border wall construction

  • Author: David Tarrant, The Dallas Morning News
  • Updated: February 12
  • Published February 12

DALLAS — The National Butterfly Center has filed for a restraining order to keep federal agents and contractors — who plan to build a border wall through the popular nature preserve — off its property.

The butterfly center, located in the small Texas town of Mission in the Rio Grande Valley, has tried for more than a year to stop the border fencing, which Congress approved last March. But the current debate over the Trump administration’s demands for billions more dollars in border wall funding has focused national attention on the butterfly preserve’s plight.

Executive Director Marianna Trevino-Wright said the center’s attorneys filed for a restraining order Monday evening in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., because construction equipment and contractors have driven across the center’s property even though the federal government has yet to acquire the land.

The motion, which was first reported by the Texas Observer, accuses the federal Department of Homeland Security in the past week of driving truck and heavy machinery across the center “as if they own it,” replacing the lock on one of the gates and blocking access to “more than two-thirds” of the property.

The filing seeks to prevent any federal employees or federal contracts from “taking any action” on the center’s property “for construction of a border wall, enforcement zone, road or any related installations, or otherwise interfering with the (butterfly center’s) use and enjoyment of its property” pending the outcome of lawsuits filed by the butterfly center and other groups allied against the wall’s construction.

A federal judge Tuesday had not yet scheduled a hearing on the center’s request.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has said publicly it intends to start building the wall through the butterfly center this month. The agency’s spokesman Carlos Diaz declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

Under laws passed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security has said it can override federal environmental regulations to build barriers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The lawsuits challenge the Trump administration’s decision to speed construction by waiving of dozens of environmental, health and safety laws. In addition to the National Butterfly Center, the Texas waivers allow walls to cut through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park as well as other private property.

The cases are still pending.

The attention on the butterfly sanctuary and the current border debate has helped the center raise more than $80,000 for its legal defense from more than 1,800 donors through GoFundMe.

But the construction of the wall through the butterfly center isn’t directly tied to the current impasse between President Donald Trump and Democrats over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in border wall funding; Congress last March approved more than $600 million for 33 miles of new barriers in the Rio Grande Valley.

Trump, who campaigned heavily on adding walls to the southern border on Mexico’s dime and held a rally for the wall Monday in El Paso, has said border barriers are necessary to curb unauthorized immigration and other illegal activities.

Ahead of Friday’s deadline to prevent a second government shutdown in 2019, congressional negotiators agreed to a tentative deal to include $1.375 billion for border wall funding.

Trump indicated Tuesday he did not like the agreement. “Am I happy at first glance? The answer is no, I’m not, I’m not happy,” Trump said to reporters before a meeting with Cabinet members at the White House.

The agreement also drew criticism from the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit based in Tucson, Ariz. The nonprofit is suing the Trump administration to challenge border wall construction in the Rio Grande Valley, as well as near the Santa Teresa Port of Entry in New Mexico and California.

Paulo Lopes, a public lands policy specialist for the Center for Biological Diversity, called the wall “an enormous waste of taxpayer money that will do nothing to stop illegal drugs or human trafficking.”

“This despicable deal will wall off the Rio Grande Valley,” Lopes said. “It will destroy spectacular ecosystems and wildlife habitat and seize private land from Texas families.”

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