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By Mariam El-Haj
August 16, 2017
Caption : Hundreds of people march along a levee in South Texas toward the Rio Grande to oppose the wall the U.S. government wants to build on the river separating Texas and Mexico, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Mission, Texas. The area would be the target of new barrier construction under the Trump administration's current plan. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)     Credit : AP Photo/Eric Gay.

For the first time since the Bush Administration, we are revisiting the serious threat of a wall along the Texas-Mexico border. Most people have never seen what currently exists of the border wall, nor do they know it exists. At the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse Museum and World Birding Center, just seven and a half miles south from the McAllen International Airport, there is a segment of this mile-long, eighteen-foot wall.

Due to an international treaty and flood zone requirements, the border wall that currently exists cannot stand along the true border. Instead, many parts of the wall are half of a mile north of the border, closing off several United States residents from the rest of the country. This will only get worse if more segments of the border wall are placed; several Americans will be left feeling as if they do not have a home in the United States, nor in Mexico.

Additionally, the border wall was implemented for the purpose of “slowing down” immigration across the border, intending to focus on what the country classifies as “illegal immigration.” The wall fails at doing this. When I visited what currently exists as the wall, I was able to see handprints up and down the metal barrier. With the height of the wall, it is not impossible to climb, but there is a heavy risk for people who try. Although climbing the wall is a difficult and dangerous task, it is being done successfully, which has been evidenced by the homemade ladders found along the border wall during my short hike in Hidalgo, Texas.

The Texas-Mexico border is crossed by people coming from several different countries across central and south America, including Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. For several, obtaining refugee status is their goal and they look to be spotted by border patrol agents, hoping for compassion. For others, the goal is to escape rampant poverty and inhumane bureaucracies, seeking a more fulfilling life.

Along with that, the border serves as a migration path for several species of birds, insects, and mammals, including the endangered ocelot and monarch butterfly. Low-flying butterflies would not be able to pass if a wall was placed. Barricades were instead suggested for this form of wildlife, but they would not have a space large enough for the ocelot to pass safely through without being entirely fruitless. The Rio Grande Valley is home to a beautiful variety of animals and insects that migrate back and forth between the United States and Mexico and much of this natural migration process can be seen at the wildlife centers that sit along the border in this region.

Currently, Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge is at risk of being demolished for the border wall. Local officials have suggested adding to the levee walls that exist near the border to make into the proposed border wall. Since this levee sits right at the visitor center of Santa Ana, this means that the rest of the refuge center will be lost behind the wall, no longer allowing Americans access to this “crown jewel.” Construction is proposed to begin in November as the current administration is silently targeting Santa Ana WLR first and the Department of Homeland Security has already stated that they will waive environment protection laws to move forward with construction.

The significance of Santa Ana WLR to the Rio Grande Valley is monumental. The refuge serves as a hotspot for ecotourism in south Texas, providing millions each year to the economy that houses the poorest metropolitan area in the United States. Removing this from the local economy would detriment this region dramatically. Other targets for the proposed wall include the National Butterfly Center and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, both requiring demolishment for the wall to be put in place. The National Butterfly Center is already experiencing trespassing on their private property, with stakes being put in place where the wall is expected to stand.

Photo courtesy of Scott Nicol.
Photo courtesy of Scott Nicol.

So what does the border wall do, if it doesn’t really keep people out? The Rio Grande Valley’s population is 95 percent people of Hispanic-descent. The border wall threat is one that separates families from one another and preventing potential consumers from contributing to the local economy. It is a threat that disproportionately affects brown people, poor people, endangered species, and the future of the environment. Migration is a natural and beautiful process for all, and cutting off this ability with an ego-tool such as a concrete wall will decay the region.

Several other landmarks will be south of the wall, leaving them abandoned and only to exist as a memory. La Lomita Chapel was built in 1865 and serves as a historical monument for the region, with the city of Mission being named as such due to the chapel. Additionally, there stands a 900-year old Montezuma Bald Cypress in Abram, TX, southeast of Mission and south of where the border wall will be, cutting any access to this ancient beast. As if all of that wasn’t enough, people are also being told to leave their homes for the construction of the wall to take place on their property, with the government attempting to buy out their land much lower than the actual value. For those not living along the path but living south of the wall will need to find a way to leave, losing their property and all the money they put into it, since the wall will essentially sever their access to the rest of the United States.

A final problem not generally mentioned or given much attention to is flooding. Flooding serves as the most impactful problem the wall would create. The proposed wall will be of thick concrete to not allow individuals to pass through barricades. Much of the lower Rio Grande Valley is a flood zone (being below sea level), which poses potentially lethal risks in the case of storms and climate change. The wall will serve as a dam, flooding poorer areas of south Texas and north Mexico, and essentially breaking the treaty set in place. Flooding at this scale will not only cause the displacement of people from their homes, but will potentially cost lives as well.

Despite the wall not working for its intended purpose and negatively affecting the environment, federal lawmakers still want to infuse more money into more walls. Walls that tear apart communities. Walls that dehumanize a group of people and destroy a habitat. Walls that serve no positive purpose. They want to implement more virtual walls, which makes people feel less, rather than more, safe, stripping them of their right to privacy. A wall, whether physical or virtual, that intends to divide the United States from the rest of the world, giving less access to the home of the free, land of the brave. A wall that sends an uninviting message to the rest of the world about what the cost of freedom and bravery is.

As I walked along the border, border patrol agents stopped to say hello, make jokes, and casually talk about the wall with a smile on their faces. They had no idea what my purpose of being there was, but they did this because they wanted us to recognize them as human and see that they had goals and accomplishments, something that they have been trained not to see in others.

Currently, the fight against the border wall has only been fought by locals, but you can get involved. Contact your senator and tell them to oppose the border wall. Spread awareness and talk about the situation every chance you get so this region isn’t left unheard. There might still be a fighting chance to resist the wall.

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