MCALLEN, RGV – Two border congressmen have issued statements on the Fiscal Year 2019 funding agreement approved by overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate on Thursday.

Both U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, and Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, voted against the measure.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela

“I can tell you one thing – this deal does not feel like a victory for those who actually live on the U.S.-Mexico Border. Allowing 55 miles of physical barriers in the Rio Grande Valley is providing the President and his Administration their own caravan of influence over the power of the purse,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said he would like to thank the House-Senate Conference Committee, which includes Congressman Henry Cuellar, for its efforts to protect the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, the National Butterfly Center, and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. “These are just some of our region’s many sacred spaces.”

Gonzalez added that he is “disappointed” to see private property rights and perspectives of South Texas residents “discarded and disregarded.” He noted that he has personally visited with President Trump to promote border security alternatives and explain the safety – backed by FBI statistics – of communities like McAllen, Texas. 

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez

“This has yet to be acknowledged by him or his Administration. Therefore, I could not support this package,” Gonzalez said. 

Vela said the Fiscal Year 2019 funding package “amounts to the third down payment on President Trump’s border wall.” He said that by passing the agreement, Congress will have provided this Administration with nearly $3.3 billion for its border wall scheme since FY17.

“Although I appreciate the effort to include language to exempt the Ocelot Coastal Corridor, the SpaceX launch site, and to continue the exemption for the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, these exclusions are of small consolation to all of the parties who will be affected by the 55 miles in newly funded fencing,” Vela said.

“The trampling of private property rights, the destructive isolation of historic family cemetery sites, and the erosion of other environmentally precious and unprotected lands will have a long-term devastating impact on our border communities. The rest of our border communities are just as important as the presumably protected sites and also deserve to be protected. That is why I voted no on this package.”

Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, said his group wanted to go on record as thanking Congressman Vela for his “tireless efforts” to protect a portion of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Clark said the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge is “vital” for the survival and recovery of endangered ocelots in the United States. 

“We continue to urge lawmakers to add protections for the entirety of the refuge which contains some of the most important and biodiverse habitat in the nation. Wall or barriers of any kind built on any part of the refuge would irreparably damage the landscape and would harm hundreds of species, including 15 protected under the Endangered Species Act,” Clark said.

Clark noted that Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley is home to more than 530 species of birds, 40 percent of North America’s butterfly species, 1,200 plant species and 17 threatened or endangered species, including ocelot and jaguarundi. American Forests has worked with the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge since 1997 to plant 1.5 million trees to connect fragmented habitat, creating a wildlife corridor for these and other species.