The National Butterfly Center in Texas has filed for a restraining order to stop the construction of a border barrier across its land. The court action argues that the federal government’s property grab violates the Constitution and will cause “irreparable harm” to the environment.
The move could be the beginning of Texas clashes with the federal government over property confiscations as the Trump administration begins building border walls in the Rio Grande Valley. Some private property owners have already denied federal requests to allow access to begin surveying their land for construction sites, The Washington Post reported.
Federal contractors appeared at the site unannounced in the summer of 2017 — long before funds were approved for any construction — and began ripping out trees and brush in the 100-acre butterfly refuge in Mission, refuge Executive Director Marianna Trevino-Wright told HuffPost. Construction was expected to begin sometime this month. The center attracts about 35,000 visitors annually for a chance to view about 200 species of butterflies as well as a wide range of birds in the area.
As building preparation is undertaken, “Defendants’ constitutional violations are escalating,” the center’s lawyers wrote in court papers filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “Immediate injunctive relief is necessary to prevent irreparable harm.”
The motion accuses the government of unreasonable search and seizure in taking control of the land, and seizure of property without due process of law.
“By summarily depriving [the center] of its property without due process of law, Defendants defy centuries of democratic values that shield Americans from government action depriving individuals of their rightful property without notice and an opportunity to be heard,” the lawyers argued.
Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen is named as defendant.
The butterfly center is also asking for a preliminary injunction until the government has properly assessed the environmental impact of the barrier as mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.
The planned 18 feet of steel bollards on top of an 18-foot concrete wall will cut off 70 acres of the refuge closest to the Rio Grande. Wildlife will be trapped on the river side during floods, while animals on the other side won’t be able to get to lifesaving water. The proposed height of the barrier will also block many butterflies and birds, according to the center.
The barrier, which would be two miles from the border, would also mean that Americans who want to get from one part of America to another, for recreation along the Rio Grande, will have to go through a security system at the wall.
The planned project would clear out a 150-foot wide area along the border as an “enforcement zone.” Bulldozing and subsequent vehicles, noise, lights and human activity will destroy the area as a refuge for wildlife, Wright said.
Other construction is slated to soon begin at two other wildlife refuges.
A federal judge ruled last week that the government can begin surveying land owned by a small Texas Catholic church, which would also be cut off from the rest of America on a strip of land along the river. The local diocese has said it will battle any land confiscation by the federal government as a violation of the constitutional right of free expression of religion.
The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental advocacy groups late last year also sued the Trump administration over planned construction in the Rio Grande Valley, including at the National Butterfly Center, and other areas. The suit argued that the administration’s decision to waive environmental regulations to speed construction was an “unconstitutional” power grab. The center has estimated that 93 endangered species will be further threatened by the barriers. The case is pending.
Funding to build a massive barrier along 33 miles of the Rio Grande Valley was allocated by Congress last year. Money was pointedly not to be used to construct President Donald Trump’s wall — only for fencing or levees. The final product, however, looks suspiciously similar to an image Trump has tweeted of a version of his imagined wall.
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), whose congressional district includes 820 miles of the southern border, is opposed to Trump’s wall. He estimates that the federal government could seize land from as many as 1,000 property owners in his district alone to build a wall. “There’s a thing in Texas we care about called private property rights,” Hurd has said.
Hurd believes border surveillance using radar and cameras, along with a careful examination of what’s being done and what works are far more rational approaches to take.