Congressman includes provisions requiring CBP to prohibit the use of funds for wall construction in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, National Butterfly Center, La Lomita Historical Park, and SpaceX Commercial Spaceport and to reach mutual agreements with local communities in Starr County on any barriers
Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28), a member of the Conference Committee on Homeland Security Appropriations, announced that he added language in the fiscal year 2019 appropriations package to protect sensitive areas in the Rio Grande Valley. He also included language requiring U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to reach mutual agreements with local communities in Starr County regarding the design and alignment of border barriers. Specifically, the language:
Prohibits funding for physical barriers:
Within the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge;
Within the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park;
Within La Lomita Historical park;
Within the National Butterfly Center; or
Within or east of the Vista del Mar Ranch tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge (site of SpaceX commercial spaceport).
Requires for the first time that CBP reach mutual agreements with local elected officials in Roma, Escobares, Rio Grande City, La Grulla, Salineño (cities where CBP has indicated it plans to build barriers) on the design and alignment of any barriers. This type of mutual agreement provision can be used as a model for other border cities in the future.
“This is a big win for the Rio Grande Valley,” said Congressman Cuellar. “I worked hard to include this language because protecting these ecologically-sensitive areas and ensuring local communities have a say in determining the solutions that work for them is critical. I know we can secure the border in a much more effective way, and at a fraction of the cost, by utilizing advanced technology and increasing the agents and properly equipping them on the border.”
Protecting Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park
The family of the late Democratic U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen sold 586.9 acres along the Rio Grande to the state of Texas in 1944 for a single dollar on condition that land be used “solely for public park purposes. Now, as part of the World Birding Center, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is a world-class destination for bird-watching and a protected area that has been set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife, and plant resources in the Congressman’s district that attract tourists from around the world. The Rio Grande Valley hosts one of the most spectacular convergences of birds on earth, with more than 525 species documented in this unique place.
Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
Home to almost half of all butterfly species found in the United States, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is situated along the banks of the Rio Grande, south of Alamo in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, in Hidalgo County. The wildlife refuge was established for the protection of migratory birds in 1943. Its unique location is at the meeting of different climates and habitats: subtropical wetlands, Chihuahuan Desert, Gulf Coast, and Great Plains. Its riparian location has developed a reputation for diverse birding.
It was originally slated by the Trump Administration as the starting point for the wall. Rep. Cuellar also helped secure a similar provision in last year’s appropriations bill to prohibit wall funding in or around the refuge.
National Butterfly Center
The National Butterfly Center is home to a 100-acre wildlife center and botanical garden that borders the Rio Grande River and is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Lower Rio Grande Valley Wildlife Corridor. According to the North American Butterfly Association (NABA), the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas has the most diverse butterfly and bird fauna of any area of the United States.
La Lomita is a Catholic chapel, built in 1899 in Mission, and a tourist attraction because of its rich history as a site where Calvary of Christ missionaries performed baptisms, marriages, and funerals. When the City of Mission, Texas was founded in 1908, the city was named “Mission” in honor of La Lomita chapel. Now, La Lomita chapel is a religious shrine and a favorite site of historians that provides a glimpse into an important part of the history of Mission and South Texas in general.
The Vista del Mar Ranch tract of land of the lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, intended to be home to a SpaceX commercial spaceport, stands in the path of President Trump’s border wall plans. The land is a launch site still under construction in Boca Chica Village, a small community between the border town of Brownsville and the Gulf Coast.
Starr County Protections
The language Congressman Cuellar secured is the first of its kind and requires that mutual agreements between DHS and local officials are met in Starr County. Previously, in the Secure Fence Act of 2006, DHS is only required to engage in consultation with local communities. This “consultation” was not working. Instead, this language goes further and requires that mutual agreements be arrived at before DHS can build any barriers in or near cities in Starr. It would also provide a further check on DHS by ensuring that local residents have the opportunity to submit their input to DHS and receive the Department’s response to those comments. As further assurance, the Congressman personally received guarantee from top DHS officials that they would work towards mutually agreeable solutions with local communities along the border.
“I have consistently worked to include language that reflects the ideas and priorities of local officials and community members in my district. This language ensures that CBP reaches mutual agreements with local communities prior to the construction of any barrier in Starr County. It encourages cooperation with all parties involved, making sure that communities at the border have a voice at the table.”
Congressman Cuellar continued, “I would like to thank Speaker Pelosi, Chairwomen Lowey and Roybal-Allard, along with committee conferees from both chambers and both sides of the aisle, for working hard to get this bill finished and including these important provisions in the package.”
The fiscal year 2019 appropriations conference report, which is expected to pass the House, contains the remaining seven unpassed appropriations bills:
Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies;
Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies;
Financial Services and General Government;
Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies;
State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs; and
Transportation, Housing and urban Development, and Related Agencies.