Border state lawmakers challenge border wall
A part of the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

WASHINGTON–Ten Democratic lawmakers representing districts along the U.S.-Mexico border are challenging the GOP’s plans to build Donald Trump’s wall there.

And so is a Texas environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity. It says the wall will make a mess of one of the U.S.’ prime wildlife habitats, the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Private owners whose lands straddle the border aren’t happy, either.

Building the wall to keep out migration from Mexico was a key pledge of then-GOP presidential candidate Trump, rousing anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic hatred from his crowds. And Congress’ ruling Republicans, many of them scared by the same biases, have so far fallen meekly into line while writing money bills to fund the government for the year starting Oct. 1.

The House Border Caucus hasn’t.

In a letter to top leaders of both parties, the group, led by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Az., but also including six Democrats from Texas, declare they oppose any attempt to include a $1.6 billion “down payment” for the first 60-mile stretch of Trump’s wall in any money bills the House considers. Sixty-four percent (1,254 miles) of the 1,954-mile U.S.-Mexico border abuts Texas.

Ironically, there are already some walls — 654 miles worth — along the border, including “virtual walls” overseen by drones, plus converted Rio Grande River levees, the lawmakers pointed out. They’ve had little impact on migration, or lack of it, non-partisan studies show.

“While the false narrative of a violent and insecure border region has long been used to justify legislation that has negative economic and civil rights impacts on border communities, the southern border is not a war zone. In fact, communities along the southern border are some of the safest in the United States,” the lawmakers’ letter says.

“Walls along the southern border separate and intimidate communities, encroach on landowner rights, harm wildlife, and serve as an un-American symbol of hatred toward immigrants who contribute so much to our country. To build the existing wall, hundreds of private landowners and municipalities had their property condemned and lawsuits are still dragging through federal courts.

“Placement of the existing wall also forced U.S. citizens to live in a ‘no-man’s land,’ between border barriers and the actual border. Additional walls would mean that hundreds more would lose the farm and ranch lands that provide economic support for their families and border communities.”

After co-signing the letter, Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Tx., was even blunter. “Making American taxpayers pay $1.6 billion for a portion of the wall is asinine. I understand Republicans want to give President Trump one win due to his failed six months in office, but this is just irresponsible. The border wall will rip our community apart, stomp on landowners’ rights, and on the wildlife of the Rio Grande Valley, including the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge,” his press release said.

But Vela also admits the House will be of little help, as its ruling Republicans can jam through almost anything they want, including funding for the wall, on party-line votes.

That leaves the courts as another avenue to stop Trump’s wall.

The Center for Biological Diversity is suing to ban construction until the Department of Homeland Security follows environmental law and finishes a full Environmental Impact Statement about the wall. Grijalva has joined that suit.

The last EIS of border security, and of the Santa Ana refuge, was in 2001. But Trump’s DHS claims a 2005 law lets it go ahead with building the wall on national security grounds, without waiting for an environmental analysis. DHS agents are already doing test borings on the border.

The landowners are fighting the wall, too. Vela said Efren Olivares, economic and racial justice director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, represents 15 of them who face government seizure of their land under “eminent domain” powers, so that the feds can build the wall.

“We are ready for a contested, protracted resistance alongside Texan landowners,” Olivares said in announcing the suit in mid-April.

“Under the rules governing federal condemnation actions, a landowner who disagrees with the amount offered by the government has the right to request a jury trial. Our team at the Texas Civil Rights Project is ready to represent landowners, as well as train and deploy legal volunteers to ensure that all landowners have the representation and respect they deserve.”

“Ultimately, we know the proposed border wall is the type of wrongheaded policy that threatens our community and distracts from the real issues facing our broken immigration system.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.