A rally for Santa Ana

ALAMO — More than 600 people gathered to celebrate the legacy of an historic refuge and simultaneously protest what environmentalists say is the federal government’s bid to irreparably damage it.

With the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge as their backdrop, opponents of a border wall and legislation that would pit Dreamers against other undocumented immigrants urged attendees to pressure lawmakers to reject any deal that would include funding for construction that they say would all but destroy the refuge. Environmentalists established the refuge about 75 years ago as a sanctuary to protect migratory bird species, plants and other endangered animals.

While guest speakers took turns singing music and reading poetry, several in attendance held signs and chanted messages of protests to convey their dissatisfaction with an administration committed to building a physical barrier at what is considered by environmentalists worldwide as “the crown jewel of the national wildlife system.”

Recently, the president proposed to protect nearly 2 million Dreamers from deportation in exchange for $25 billion in border wall construction funds.

Veronica Fernandez-Diaz, 22, a Dreamer herself who came to the rally with a group of fellow students from Colorado College as part of a borders and borderlands class, said it was important for her to visit the region and support DACA recipients and immigration advocates.

“I feel very emotionally invested in the process and it’s hard to take a class where you’re emotionally invested just because it’s draining,” she said. “I’m in it all the time, but it’s also very empowering to learn how people feel about border issues. We talk about issues pertaining to the border, to communities around the border, about how they’ve experience life on the border, the issues they face right now, or things they’ve seen.”

The latest deal proposed by the president would essentially pit her future against that of her own family, Fernandez-Diaz said. She has a younger sister who is a U.S. citizen but both of her parents are undocumented.

“I refuse to criminalize my family for my own sake — and so many (Dreamers) know that it’s not worth it if (they obtain) citizenship if (our) parents are going to be deported or criminalized,” Fernandez-Diaz said. “I’m not going to let my 9-year-old sister be left alone in this country, or be sent to a country she doesn’t know — for me there is no compromise, because you’re talking about my family and I’m not going to give that up for (a deal) that might protect me.”

Scott Nicol, an executive member of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club who helped organize Saturday’s event, said it’s a call to action for those who oppose any federal interference and destruction of the natural resources and communities along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The second Trump gets any money for border walls, he’ll start tearing apart Santa Ana,” Nicol said. “We want to point out that this could happen very quickly if we’re not able to exert enough pressure on Sen. (John) Cornyn (and) members of Congress. But this is also part of a much larger militarization, anti-border, anti-immigrant project that’s coming out of this administration.”