After a report in July that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is considering building the border wall through the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in Texas, activists started lining up to protest.
"People lined up on this levee to make a human wall where Trump wants to make a monument to his ego,” said Scott Nicol, co-chair of the Sierra Club’s borderland chapter.
Nicol said many groups, from conservationist to human rights advocates, made up the over 600 people who came out to protest on August 13, but for people like Jim Chapman, it was more of a personal drive.
"I loved this refuge from the very first time I stepped into it, and that was 37 yeas ago. It was a forest like I had never seen," said Chapman, a retired physician’s assistant turned nature activist.
The refuge, located about 15 miles South of McAllen, Texas, has over 2,000 acres and is home to the endangered wild cat called the ocelot.
There has been no official word from CBP that the wall will be built in Santa Ana, and CBP Southwest border branch chief Carlos Diaz told Circa in an email that, “Currently, the information about specific locations is still preliminary pending approval of FY18 Budget.”
The House of Representatives already approved $1.6 billion in the budget for border wall construction to start in parts of Texas and California, but the Senate still needs to pass the bill before building can start.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) released a joint statement Wednesday after meeting with President Trump announcing that a deal had been made regarding immigration that excluded the wall, but Trump denied the claim on Twitter early Thursday.
“The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built,” Trump said on Twitter.
The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017
In July, the Texas Observer reported that CBP was planning to build the wall on the levee that skirts the outside of the refuge, according to an anonymous CBP official, and that a construction crew had been at the refuge to take samples of the soil.
But even though it has been reported that the wall will not necessarily go through the refuge, but just divide it from the visitors center, Nicol is worried what the wall could do to the wildlife, especially the ocelots.
"If you continually fragment their habitat, that’s what got them endangered in the first place. So, it’s like you’re driving nails into their coffin," Nicol said.
And Chapman is concerned about what the animals will do when the Rio Grande floods, which he said happens about every 10 years.
"Essentially, the refuge that was created in 1943 to sustain and perpetuate the wildlife here will become a death trap," Chapman said.
But worry over the wildlife is not the only reason the activists are protesting the wall. Nicol said that despite the common belief that people near the border want the wall to be built for safety reasons, that is not true.
"They are just being built because the people in D.C. think that it will play well politically. So, to destroy this refuge just to make some uninformed voter in some other part of the country feel like the president is doing something, I mean that’s just infuriating," Nicol said.
A 2016 Cronkite-Univision-Dallas Morning News poll found that 72 percent of residents on the U.S. Southwest border oppose the wall.
But Carlos Ibaerra, who immigrated to the U.S. about 20 years ago from Mexico and lives near the refuge in Pharr, Texas, said he is not against building the wall.
"It’s just the president making a decision, and we need to respect that," Ibaerra said.
Ibaerra said if people want to come to the U.S., they should come legally.
And Diaz said locations where the wall is being considered are locations that are “highly exploited by smuggling organizations.”
But while funding is still up in the air, Nicol is going to use the time to try to stop construction before it starts.
"We would like to see people reach out to their members of congress and especially their senators and say no this is a tremendously destructive project and a total waste of money and they should reject it," Nicol said.
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