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MISSION, RGV – Congressman Henry Cuellar should not only fight against a border wall for “sensitive areas” such as La Lomita Chapel, the National Butterfly Center, and Bentsen State Park.

The Laredo Democrat should also battle against physical barriers in lesser known Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge tracts. These are just as important for the Rio Grande Valley’s ecological health and ecotourism industry. 

This is the view of two constituents of Cuellar, Nayda Alvarez and Yvette Gaytan. Working with the No Border Wall Grassroots Coalition, Alvarez and Gaytan have written a letter to Cuellar about the border wall.

“For families who could lose their homes, for farms and businesses along the river, the border wall is a catastrophe that will upend their lives,” Alvarez and Gaytan wrote.

Cuellar is a member of the House and Senate conference committee that is looking at a new appropriation for border security. Indeed, he is the only member of the panel that represents a U.S.-Mexico border district. 

Alvarez and Gaytan, who live alongside the Rio Grande in Starr County, say they could lose their homes if a border wall is built in their county. They paid a visit to Cuellar’s Valley district office in Mission last Friday to voice their concerns.

In a news release, the No Border Wall Grassroots Coalition said:

“Representative Cuellar recently announced legislation that would protect the National Butterfly Center, La Lomita chapel, and Bentsen State Park, natural and cultural treasures that are in Cuellar’s district, from border wall construction.

“These places deserve protection, but so do the U.S. Fish and Wildlife refuge lands and privately owned farms and businesses that would receive no protection under Representative Cuellar’s bill. Rather than saving a few places and walling off the rest, we urge Representative Cuellar to fight against walls in any border ranch, community, or ecosystem.”

The No Border Wall Grassroots Coalition points out that Cuellar voted for nearly $1.6 billion in border wall funding in 2018, including the funds that will be used to wall off the parts of his district that his recent bill would protect.

“We are concerned that he will again support border wall funding,” No Border Wall Grassroots Coalition said. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already moved to force Nayda Alvarez and Yvette Gaytan to acquiesce to have their land surveyed for border walls, while admitting that they will only receive border walls if Congress provides more funds.

“If Representative Cuellar and Congress provide any money for border walls Nayda, Yvette, and many others in Cuellar’s district will have their property seized. Their fate, and that of hundreds of others all along the Rio Grande, is in his hands.”

Here is the Alvarez/Gaytan letter in full:

Dear Representative Cuellar,

February 8, 2019

We are your constituents, members of the communities that sent you to Congress, and we urge you to fight for us, to make certain that not one dollar is given to Trump to build border walls through our communities, through your district, or anywhere else on the border.

We have been told by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that if Congress gives Trump any additional border wall money the land that we live on will be condemned. We need your help.

Right now you are working with others in Congress to write “border security” legislation to appease Trump. This worries us because less than a year ago you voted to give Trump nearly $1.6 billion for border walls, including walls that will tear through La Lomita mission and the National Butterfly Center, family farms and small businesses, Roma and Rio Grande City and La Grulla. All of these are in your district. 

Last year you should have voted against walling off parts of your district, condemning the property of your constituents, and worsening flooding in towns that you were elected to represent. Instead, you voted for it. 

Do not sacrifice us, our land, our homes, our communities, and the environment along the Rio Grande. Do not give Trump a single dollar for border walls, fences, barriers, or “artistically designed steel slats.” 

Fight for the people who sent you to Congress. Fight against any border wall funding. 

We urge you to take the following points into consideration as you work on this legislation: 

  • All areas of the border are “sensitive areas.” While border communities are desperate to save our special public places like La Lomita Chapel, the National Butterfly Center, and Bentsen State Park, we know that the lesser known Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge tracts are just as important for our region’s ecological health and our ecotourism industry. For families who could lose their homes, for farms and businesses along the river, the border wall is a catastrophe that will upend their lives. Walls outside of the Rio Grande Valley could split the homeland of the Tohono O’odham Nation or blight Big Bend National Park. There is no place where a border wall would not cause damage and destruction.
  • Border walls in the Rio Grande flood plain will worsen flooding for people living on both sides of the river. The planned Starr County walls will interfere with drainage into the river in communities that are already prone to floods, and they could deflect flood waters into lower-lying Mexican communities. The flood models that Customs and Border Protection is using to justify building in the flood plain start with the unfounded premise that bollard walls will allow flood water to pass through them. However, a study of bollard walls in Arizona found that every time a border wall crosses a wash, flooding occurs. Mexico’s section of the International Boundary and Water Commission has rejected CBP flood models and the notion that walls will not worsen flooding. 
  • Building border walls strips away our communities’ legal protections. The Real ID Act of 2005 gives the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to waive all local, state, and federal laws in order to build walls. This lawlessness has led to serious and needless damage to border communities, a lack of input from border residents, and a lack of transparency on the part of Customs and Border Protection. Stories abound of graves being unearthed during construction, of preventable erosion and other environmental damage. We have seen that inserting a vague requirement to “consult with local leaders” amounts to CBP holding show meetings that do not lead to substantial changes in location, design or construction activities. 
  • All border wall designs are damaging. For landowners who would lose their land, for wildlife whose habitat would be fragmented, and for communities who would lose all access to the Rio Grande, whether or not a structure is made of concrete or steel matters little. All of the earthen flood control levees in Hidalgo and Cameron Counties were fully restored in the last decade and do not require reinforcement, so concrete levee-border walls do not offer communities any further flood protection. 
  • Border wall, border fence, and barrier are interchangeable terms. In the Spring of 2018 Congress gave Trump $1.6 billion to build new “fences” along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Trump Administration and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) call those “fences” “walls.” Labels do not matter to the communities, landowners, and wildlife that will be impacted by walls/fences/barriers.

We look forward to working with you to ensure that no money is appropriated for additional border walls. This is not politics for us. This is our home. 

Sincerely,

Nayda Alvarez, Yvette Gaytan, and the No Border Wall Grassroots Coalition.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Nayda Alvarez (left) and Yvette Gaytan outside the Mission district office of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar.

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