MISSION — Over 100 people marched Sunday from the National Butterfly Center’s entrance to the the edge of the property — on the edge of the Rio Grande — past the levee where a border wall was supposed to be built.
This was the 6th annual Rio Grande Valley Climate March organized by the Environmental Awareness Club at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. In past years, the march would begin at McAllen City Hall and end at Archer Park. This year, the organization chose to hold the event at the National Butterfly Center in opposition of border wall construction that began last month.
Before the 2019 spending bill passed on Feb. 15, the National Butterfly Center was slated to have a border wall penetrate its property. Thanks to local congressmen, the spending bill included protections to “sensitive areas,” which include the butterfly center among other nature parks. The bill still secured funding for 55 miles of border wall in other parts of the Valley.
Shortly after the spending bill passed, the president called a national emergency in an effort to unlock more funds for border wall construction. But as litigation over Trump’s national emergency declaration continues, it’s unclear if the congressmen’s protections will hold up.
Martha Garcia, vice president of the EAC, said the change of venue was made to ensure the movement against the border wall stays alive, even with official protections for those specific sites.
“We hope the Valley keeps up the fight against environmental racism and the border wall,” she said.
As an organization, the EAC works to bring awareness to the environmental impact of border wall construction, such as fragmented habitats, obstructed floodways and the effects that has on vulnerable species and landowners, according to a statement the organization sent.
The Department of Homeland Security waived 28 federal environmental laws to begin construction of the border wall, in accordance with Section 102 of the Real ID Act which allows the DHS secretary to waive whatever legal requirements they find necessary for the construction of roads and barriers.
“The ability to ‘waive’ laws discredits the pretense that there is a rule of law,” the organization’s statement read. “We assert the human rights of our community.”
Once the crowd of marchers reached their destination on the banks of the Rio Grande, they were met with refreshments, speakers and entertainment at a dock on the riverside. Children threw sticks and rocks into the Rio Grande, trying to see who could throw the farthest or get the rocks to skip.
One of the speakers was 78-year-old Zulema Hernandez, an anti-border wall activist with La Union Del Pueblo Entero. On her walker, she approached the dock and began to speak.
“I was raised on the fields, so I value all that nature has to provide because our lord God made it and nobody has the right to deprive us of that,” Hernandez said, with the Rio Grande and Mexico as her backdrop. “I came from a family of farm workers which is where I learned to do activist work. What excites me is that there are so many people who are backing us, who are standing with us.”