Pushback Begins Ahead of Border Wall Funding Vote

WASHINGTON (CN) – With a House vote on $1.6 billion for a controversial border wall between the U.S. and Mexico set for later this week, Democrats and environmentalists got a jump Monday on decrying the move, accusing House Speaker Paul Ryan of “doing the president’s dirty work.”

The House is scheduled to vote on the package of four separate but cobbled together spending bills on Wednesday, and it is expected to pass.

But in a conference call hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union, Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., vigorously objected to both the legislation and the voting procedures that will likely be employed to pass it.

“Speaker Ryan is doing President Donald Trump’s dirty work and he’s sure he can build his wall without a clean up or down vote on the issue,” Gallego said.

“Using this type of underhanded method is covering tracks for the president and for the Republicans,” he added.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R.-New Jersey, the chairman of House Appropriations Committee, last week confirmed reports he and his GOP colleagues were creating a “minibus” to deal with border wall funding, and that there likely would not be a clean up and down vote on the legislation.

A “minibus” is DC-speak for legislation that includes only a small number of appropriations measures; the more familiar “omnibus” deals with a far larger number of measures.

Frelinghuysen’s comments set off alarm bells for the American Civil Liberties Union, which maintains that the wishes of border communities are being entirely ignored by House Republicans.

Gallego said he understands border communities are anxious for some kind of economic stimulus, and that many see that stimulus coming from the construction and guarding of the wall, but he believes any bump the wall initially provides for those communities will be short-lived and the wall’s ineffectiveness as a border-protection tool will ultimately prove it to be a bad investment.

Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition and another participant on the call, expanded on that theme.

“Don’t invest billions in walls that don’t work, or for agents we don’t need,” Ramirez said. “We should invest money to upgrade crumbling ports of entry along the southern border region. Priorities should reflect the reality on the ground. Border communities know that border walls don’t work. It is absolutely imperative that this administration consults with local elected officials who live on the border … it is reprehensible that the GOP majority will forward a bill without consulting those of us who call the borderlands home.”

Dinah Bear, an environmental attorney in Tucson, Arizona, said she’s already telltale signs of the work to come including the widening of roads leading to the border and the grading of land directly adjacent to it.

“The only reason we know the work is happening is because people have seen it with their own eyes,” Bear said. “As far as we know,  U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security have not, as far we know, complied with any laws or done any public outreach explaining what their plans are or analyzing the impacts of what they’re doing to the human or natural environment.

“We’re destroying the rule of law and harming our environment by doing harm under the supposed rubric of securing America. It’s very ironic. And it needs to stop,”  Bear said.

The attorney said in the rush to fulfill President Trump’s signature campaign promises, lawmakers in Washington are turning a blind eye to scores of environmental regulations, the rights of Native Americans, and the preservation of archeological and historic sites.

Scott Nicol, spokesman for the Sierra Club’s borderlands campaign, said he is concerned about the wall’s potential harm to wildlife and fauna.

“The border walls already up have inflected tremendous environmental damage in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California,” Nicol said. “They have acted as dams in some instances,  have also been washed away, tearing through refuges and wilderness areas and national monuments.”

Nicol said he’s particularly concerned about a section of the planned wall that will pass through a section of the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge  in Hidalgo County, Texas.

“We’ve heard Santa Ana is near the top of their priority list,” Nicol said, adding that this is despite the fact the refuge is home to endangered ocelots and generates $463 million in ecotourism annually.

Building a wall and disrupting that is irrational, Nicol said.

Bear said similar stories are playing out all over the southwest.

“They’re legally required to consult stakeholders but that’s not occurring. It’s an example of how the administration is behaving more generally,” she said.

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