Last week the cities of Mission and La Joya passed resolutions against the levee-border walls that the Trump administration wants to build in Hidalgo County, and this week several more, including McAllen, Edinburg, Pharr, San Juan and Alamo will consider similar anti-border wall resolutions.
Doing so is really an act of self-preservation, and all border communities should raise their voices to show Congress and the nation that border residents reject border walls because of the terrible impacts they will have in our communities.
In addition to 32 miles of 20- to 30-foot tall bollard walls in Starr County, the Trump Administration wants to build 28 miles of levee-border wall in Hidalgo County. The plan is to fill in all the gaps between the levee-border walls that were built in 2009. This would make a continuous levee-border wall the new de facto southern boundary of Hidalgo County and wall off its entire length from the Rio Grande.
In an August 25 letter Customs and Border Protection (CBP) described the levee-border walls as a “concrete wall to the height of the levee crest with 18-foot tall bollards installed in the top of the levee wall.” Below the river facing side of the levee-border wall CBP intends to clear “all vegetation” within a 150-foot swath to create an “enforcement zone.”
This plan threatens to cut off the homes, farms, businesses, parks, and wildlife refuges between the levee and the river, as well as block access to the river itself.
CBP says that there will be gates, but they will be the ones who decide where the $240,000 gates are placed, who gets the access codes, and when the gates are opened or closed.
We’ve seen what can happen when CBP walls off an area.
When the levee-border wall was erected between the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse World Birding Center and the adjacent Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, CBP built a gate between the Pumphouse visitor center and the hiking trail, promising to open the gate during the Center’s hours of operation. But they have never open the gate. The trails that made the park a World Birding Center are cut off, and as a consequence the City of Hidalgo derives little benefit from Valley’s ecotourism economy.
With Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Anzalduas County Park, the historic La Lomita Chapel, the National Butterfly Center, and Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park all on the south side of the levee, Hidalgo communities must understand that the levee-border wall poses a serious threat to these attractions and may mean their closure.
The levee-border wall will also wall off many homes and businesses from the rest of the United States. This can have serious consequences, as Ray and D’Ann Loop tragically discovered. The Loops lived east of Brownsville in a house that Customs and Border Protection walled off. When their home and barn caught fire earlier this year they had to stand by and watch helplessly as the buildings were destroyed and their animals died because the firetruck was stuck on the wrong side of a border wall gate.
One oft-repeated sales pitch for building border walls into our flood-control levees is the false pretense that the levees are decrepit and need repair. In fact, Hidalgo’s levees are essentially brand new. Two hundred-twenty million dollars was spent to restore all of the Rio Grande Valley’s river-facing and floodway levees, and the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC) has now certified them as meeting the criteria of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).
According to Sally Spener at USIBWC the only remaining flood control issue is drainage: how does water that falls north of the newly rebuilt levees get past them to the Rio Grande? The obvious answer is pumps. Turning a levee into a levee-border wall and topping it with steel bollards will do nothing to address this issue.
These walls would not provide added flood protection any more than they would enhance national security. Only those who make money from them – the contractors hired to build them and those who sell ladders in Reynosa for people to climb over them – would benefit.
There is only one reason that new border walls are being discussed, and we all know what that is:
Donald Trump used the border as an applause line again and again on the campaign trail.
The border wall that he claimed Mexico would pay for drew even more cheers than his claims that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act, and since he has failed to take health care away from millions of Americans, he needs a “win.” It is nothing but politics of the most reprehensible sort.
And that is why it is so important that our local political leaders send a message to Senators Cornyn and Cruz and the rest of Congress.
We reject levee-border walls in Hidalgo County.
We reject bollard border walls in Starr County.
Border residents reject Trump’s border walls, the racism and xenophobia that they represent, and the damage that they would inflict on our communities.
We don’t need an expensive, partially working wall! We need a 100-200 yd. “automated kill zone” between borders, covering anything moving below ground, on the ground or in the air, up to 20,000 feet; the Air Force can take care of anything higher! It will require a road to periodically pick up the dead, and cremate them! Dead is certain, anything else is only a maybe!