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Sunday, December 10, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Butterfly Center Asks for a Halt to Border Wall Construction

The owner of a South Texas butterfly conservation center asked a federal judge to stop the government from building a border wall it says will cut off and “render useless” 70 percent of its 100-acre refuge on the Rio Grande.

(CN) – The owner of a South Texas butterfly conservation center asked a federal judge to stop the government from building a border wall it says will cut off and “render useless” 70 percent of its 100-acre refuge on the Rio Grande.

The government is preparing to break ground on 33 miles of new barriers in the Rio Grande Valley. Congress allocated $1.6 billion for the work in March 2018.

It will add to the more than 600 miles of barriers the U.S. has already built on the southern border.

The North American Butterfly Association said in court filings on Monday the government is violating its property rights and environmental-protection statutes in its eagerness to finish the project.

On any given day, the association says, visitors can see 100 wild butterfly species and 200,000 different butterflies at its refuge.

The association’s executive director Marianna Trevino Wright said in a court filing Monday that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents changed the locks on the refuge’s gate and are blocking access with their service vehicles, so its visitors cannot access the 70 percent of the Butterfly Center that is south of the levee.

Trevino said the butterfly refuge is now swarming with border agents, Texas state troopers, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officers and employees of a government contractor, who are all crossing a levee road on its property without permission in preparation for erecting a wall along the levee in a national wildlife refuge west of the butterfly refuge.

The government has hired construction firm SLSCO Ltd. to build a “reinforced concrete levee wall to the height of the existing levee” and “18 feet tall steel bollards” on top of the concrete wall, according to Customs and Border Protection.

The agency said vegetation will be removed in a 150-foot “enforcement zone” on the river side of a 6-mile stretch of levee walls. 

“The enforcement zone will also include detection technology, lighting, video surveillance, and an all-weather patrol road parallel to the levee wall,” CBP said in a statement.

The butterfly association claims in a lawsuit filed in December 2017 in federal court in Washington, D.C. that the government is violating the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act because it did not prepare a final environmental impact statement for the project or let the public comment on it.

The association repeated those claims in an injunction motion Monday and said the government was also violating its Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights to be free from governmental interference with its property.

The government claims it’s exempt from the environmental review requirements because Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen invoked the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to waive dozens of environmental laws for the project.

The Ninth Circuit on Monday affirmed a judgment authorizing the federal government’s waiver of 37 environmental laws to expedite border-wall construction near San Diego, Calif.

The North American Butterfly Association’s attorney said he’s not concerned the Ninth Circuit’s ruling will undercut the association’s claims.

“A holding from the Ninth Circuit does not bind the court in D.C.,” Timothy Beeken said on the phone.

Beeken, who works for the firm Debevoise & Plimpton in New York City, said U.S. District Judge Richard Leon has 21 days to set a hearing under the court’s rules, but he can postpone it.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the temporary restraining order motion. Its attorneys said in court filings they will respond by Feb. 22.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Government, Law, Politics

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