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UPDATE: Congressman Henry Cuellar, a member of the Conference Committee on Homeland Security Appropriations, spoke to Diocese of Brownsville Bishop Daniel Flores by telephone on Thursday to discuss the successful inclusion of key appropriations language in the federal budget prohibiting funding for border barriers at La Lomita chapel in Mission, Texas.

Congressman Henry Cuellar discusses with Bishop of Brownsville Daniel E. Flores key provisions in the conference committee appropriations package. One of the provisions protects the La Lomita chapel in Mission from being fenced off by a Border Wall.

La Lomita is a Catholic chapel, built in 1899 in Mission, and a tourist attraction because of its rich history as a site where Calvary of Christ missionaries performed baptisms, marriages, and funerals. When the City of Mission, Texas was founded in 1908, the city was named “Mission” in honor of La Lomita chapel. Now, La Lomita chapel is a religious shrine and a favorite site of historians that provides a glimpse into an important part of the history of Mission and South Texas in general.

Original Story:


Cuellar: Conference committee report protects ’sensitive areas’ from Border Wall

Congressman Henry Cuellar telephoning a constituent of his, Nayda Alvarez, who lives in Starr County. Alvarez is concerned a border wall will leave her home on the “Mexican side” of the border wall.

RIO GRANDE CITY, RGV – Congressman Henry Cuellar says he has added language in the fiscal year 2019 appropriations package to protect sensitive areas in the Rio Grande Valley.

The Laredo Democrat, a member of the Conference Committee on Homeland Security Appropriations, said he has also added language requiring the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to reach mutual agreements with local communities in Starr County regarding the design and alignment of border barriers.

Being the only member from the border on the conference committee, I was a special voice at the table. I was able to show the senators pictures of our area. I had a lot of conversations behind the scenes,” Cuellar told the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM.

“They were fighting this, Trump’s team. Trump wanted to include all the exceptions I got. They wanted to cut through Santa Ana, Bentsen State Park, etc. I said guys, can’t Border Patrol patrol this with sensors and cameras?

“We were able to do two things. In the sensitive areas, they can put in technology and more personnel but no physical barriers. They (Trump’s negotiators) fought this hard.”

In a new release, Cuellar said the conference committee compromise measure specifically prohibits funding for physical barriers in these areas:

  • Within the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge;
  • Within the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park;
  • Within La Lomita Historical park;
  • Within the National Butterfly Center; or
  • Within or east of the Vista del Mar Ranch tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge (site of SpaceX commercial spaceport)

Cuellar said the measure also requires CBP to reach “mutual agreements” with local elected officials in Roma, Escobares, Rio Grande City, La Grulla, and Salineño. These are cities where CBP has indicated it plans to build barriers. The agreements may cover design and alignment of any barriers.

Cuellar said this type of mutual agreement provision can be used as a model for other border cities in the future.

“This is a big win for the Rio Grande Valley,” Cuellar said. “I worked hard to include this language because protecting these ecologically-sensitive areas and ensuring local communities have a say in determining the solutions that work for them is critical. I know we can secure the border in a much more effective way, and at a fraction of the cost, by utilizing advanced technology and increasing the agents and properly equipping them on the border.”

As for the Starr County provision, Cuellar said:

“They wanted to go straight into the cities with their border wall. Under the Bush Administration, I helped put language into the Secure Fence Act that required consultation. But, it was not happening. Now, they haver to reach mutual agreement with the local communities on what type of barriers, what type of design and where the alignment will go. Now, there will be the opportunity for public comment, and DHS has to specifically respond to those comments. If it has to go to court, we will have built up a record.”

Cuellar said the Starr County provision was “holding things up.” Now, he said, “CBP has to sit down and reach a mutual agreement with local officials on design and alignment.”

Cullear said the language he added may not be as strong as he would have liked but it is much better than what was in place before. “Before, Border Patrol had to consult but then they could say, we do not like it, okay, thank you very much. They had checked that box.”

Cuellar said the good thing, if local communities in Starr County do not like the how things go with “mutual agreement,” is he sits on the appropriations committee that is working on the DHS funding bill for Fiscal Year 2020. “We can bring in the commissioner and say, hey, you are not working on this. We still have the appropriations process. That gives us oversight.”

Cuellar said he thinks the Starr County situation will work out amicably. “I got a commitment that they (DHS) will travel down and make this work. And, I have received calls from Starr County saying they had received a call from one of the contractors, saying can we talk.”

Cuellar’s news release states:

Protecting Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park

The family of the late Democratic U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen sold 586.9 acres along the Rio Grande to the state of Texas in 1944 for a single dollar on condition that land be used “solely for public park purposes. Now, as part of the World Birding Center, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is a world-class destination for bird-watching and a protected area that has been set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife, and plant resources in the Congressman’s district that attract tourists from around the world. The Rio Grande Valley hosts one of the most spectacular convergences of birds on earth, with more than 525 species documented in this unique place.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

Home to almost half of all butterfly species found in the United States, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is situated along the banks of the Rio Grande, south of Alamo in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, in Hidalgo County. The wildlife refuge was established for the protection of migratorybirds in 1943. Its unique location is at the meeting of different climates and habitats: subtropical wetlandsChihuahuan DesertGulf Coast, and Great Plains. Its riparian location has developed a reputation for diverse birding.

It was originally slated by the Trump Administration as the starting point for the wall. Rep. Cuellar also helped secure a similar provision in last year’s appropriations bill to prohibit wall funding in or around the refuge.

National Butterfly Center

The National Butterfly Center is home to a 100-acre wildlife center and botanical garden that borders the Rio Grande River and is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Lower Rio Grande Valley Wildlife Corridor. According to the North American Butterfly Association (NABA), the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas has the most diverse butterfly and bird fauna of any area of the United States.

La Lomita

La Lomita is a Catholic chapel, built in 1899 in Mission, and a tourist attraction because of its rich history as a site where Calvary of Christ missionaries performed baptisms, marriages, and funerals. When the City of Mission, Texas was founded in 1908, the city was named “Mission” in honor of La Lomita chapel. Now, La Lomita chapel is a religious shrine and a favorite site of historians that provides a glimpse into an important part of the history of Mission and South Texas in general.

SpaceX

The Vista del Mar Ranch tract of land of the lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, intended to be home to a SpaceX commercial spaceport, stands in the path of President Trump’s border wall plans. The land is a launch site still under construction in Boca Chica Village, a small community between the border town of Brownsville and the Gulf Coast.

Starr County Provision


Cuellar said the language he has secured for Starr County communities is the first of its kind and requires that mutual agreements between DHS and local officials are met in in the county.

He points out that previously, under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, DHS is only required to engage in consultation with local communities.

“This ‘consultation’ was not working, Cuellar’s news release states.

Instead, Cuellar said, the language goes further and requires that mutual agreements be arrived at before DHS can build any barriers in or near cities in Starr. “It would also provide a further check on DHS by ensuring that local residents have the opportunity to submit their input to DHS and receive the Department’s response to those comments,” the news release states.

As further assurance, Cuellar said he personally received guarantee from top DHS officials that they would work towards mutually agreeable solutions with local communities along the border.

“I have consistently worked to include language that reflects the ideas and priorities of local officials and community members in my district. This language ensures that CBP reaches mutual agreements with local communities prior to the construction of any barrier in Starr County. It encourages cooperation with all parties involved, making sure that communities at the border have a voice at the table,” Cuellar said.

“I would like to thank Speaker Pelosi, Chairwomen Lowey and Roybal-Allard, along with committee conferees from both chambers and both sides of the aisle, for working hard to get this bill finished and including these important provisions in the package.”

Cuellar said the fiscal year 2019 appropriations conference report, which is expected to pass the House, contains the remaining seven un-passed appropriations bills:

  1. Homeland Security;
  2. Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies;
  3. Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies;
  4. Financial Services and General Government;
  5. Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies;
  6. State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs; and
  7. Transportation, Housing and urban Development, and Related Agencies.

Editor’s Note: The text of the FY19 Homeland Security Border Security Exclusions and Protections here.

Editor’s Note: The text of the Conference Report to Accompany H.J. Res. 31 is available here.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the original story shows Congressman Henry Cuellar telephoning a constituent of his, Nayda Alvarez, who lives in Starr County. Alvarez is concerned a border wall will leave her home on the “Mexican side” of the border wall.

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