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Mexico border wall: Demolition of US National Butterfly Centre begins to make way for barrier

The Trump administration is deferring 28 environmental laws to build the wall

Sarah Harvard
New York
Tuesday 05 February 2019 20:30 GMT
Trump says he will declare a national emergency if no deal is reached on border wall

A butterfly sanctuary is about to be demolished to make way for President Donald Trump’s hotly contested border wall between the United States and Mexico, prompting outrage and protests from Native American and conservationist groups.

On Monday, bulldozers and heavy machinery were spotted at the National Butterfly Centre in Misson, Texas, indicating the start of the border wall construction that will plough right through the protected habitat.

The funding for this portion of the wall was approved by Congress in the 2018 federal budget, shortly before the impasse between Democrats and the president halted another round of funding for the wall leading o a 35-day partial government shutdown.

As construction equipment were being offloaded on Monday morning, a group of 35 Native American members held a marching demonstration on the Rio Grande levee where the wall will be built.

“I didn’t expect it this soon,” Juan Mancias, the tribal chair of Carrizo Comecrudo leading the protest, told Express News. “But there’s a constant uneasiness.”

Federal documents state the border wall include a 150-foot wide “enforcement zone”, prompting fury that it will obliterate the tribal ancestors at the Eli Jackson Cemetery in San Juan.

Mr Trump has repeatedly – and unsuccessfully — demanded $5.7bn to build a border wall, a figure far larger than then $1.6bn than the last Congress-approved budget.

After the longest recorded federal closure in US history, the president reopened the government under a temporary funding measure that is about to expire on February 15. Members of Congress are currently negotiating a resolution over border security to present to the president before the deadline.

The $1.6bn from the 2018 budget will pay for 33 miles of border fencing on the Rio Grande Valley that will cut through the butterfly sanctuary.

The steel-and-concrete wall fencing will block off 70 of the butterfly centre’s 100 acres.

“You come over here, you see the butterflies here, the animals here, and you also see gravesites that have been here since 1865,” Mr Mancias added.

The Carrizo Comecrudo tribal chair said he feels a connection with the butterfly sanctuary, saying that they’re both committed to “saving that which is native to Texas” whether that may be butterflies or the history of Native Americans.

“We have an association with nature, we are a part of it,” he added.

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Those protesting the border wall construction cutting through the butterfly centre sang in the native Lakota language. One song featured a verse that says: “We know that everything is sacred, so we walk with everything that is sacred.”

The Trump administration is deferring 28 environmental laws to build the border wall, a decision from a November lawsuit brought forward by environmentalist group Defenders of Wildlife, “which asserts that the waivers exceed the government’s authority”.

“This isn’t due process,” Ms Lori Burnett, a community organiser for Defenders of Wildlife, told Express News, arguing that the butterfly centre isn’t on federal land.

“I’m here for my grandchildren,” Ms Burnett, who is also protesting the border wall construction, said. “This is the most pristine, most beautiful area I have ever witnessed. This is gorgeous. And to know that my grandchildren will never be able to see this....the damage that is going to be done by this wall is going to take centuries to rebuild, if it can.”

The butterfly centre isn’t the only sacred land the Trump Administration will plough through for its construction of the border wall.

On Wednesday, the government will argue in court for access to examine land belonging to the La Lomita Chapel after the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville refused to grant access at the site, which would leave it stranded between the Rio Grande and the proposed wall.

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