Protection Sought: Cuellar seeks to protect SpaceX, wildlife refuges, from border wall - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Protection Sought: Cuellar seeks to protect SpaceX, wildlife refuges, from border wall

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Posted: Friday, February 1, 2019 10:15 pm

As uncertainty continues about whether U.S. Customs and Border Protection's plan for a border wall could impact SpaceX, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, filed legislation prohibiting the use of funds to build physical barriers through the planned spaceport and several wildlife refuges.

Cuellar announced in a press release that he added language to the Democratic border security proposal that would prohibit funds from being used to construct border barriers impacting SpaceX, the National Butterfly Center, La Lomita Historical Park, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge.

"This is a big win for South Texas," Cuellar said in a statement. "I worked hard to include this language because 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."

CBP has acknowledged an inquiry from The Brownsville Herald asking why it is seeking access to survey SpaceX's Boca Chica Beach property and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department property near that facility, but had not yet responded as of deadline.

Existing border wall in eastern Cameron County ends south of Highway 4 just outside Brownsville city limits before a soft Border Patrol checkpoint. Highway 4 ends at Boca Chica Beach by SpaceX.

President Donald Trump has vowed not to sign any language that does not include funding for his signature campaign promise: a border wall.

Cuellar called that promise a 14th Century solution to a 21st Century challenge.

"I have been outspoken against President Trump's wall because as someone who lives on the border, I understand firsthand that a massively expensive wall is nothing more than a 14th Century solution to a 21st Century challenge," Cuellar said in the statement. "I speak with constituents, landowners, and law enforcement professionals regularly and we all know that this is an ineffective use of taxpayer dollars."

The Democrat proposal to fund the Department of Homeland Security includes $14.296 billion for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes $798 million to hire 1,000 more CBP officers, to purchase screening technology for ports-of-entry and for non-intrusive inspection technology at pre-primary port-of-entry lanes.

That legislation does not include any funding to hire more Border Patrol agents, but does include $502 million to address humanitarian concerns at the border and $400 million for the purchase and deployment of border security technology.

The language Cuellar inserted into the bill follows a 35-day partial government shutdown after Trump declined to sign bipartisan language on Dec. 22 because it didn't contain $5.7 billion in funding he is seeking for a border wall.

Trump agreed to end the partial government shutdown on Jan. 25 and gave lawmakers until Feb. 15 to come up with a bill containing border wall funding that he would sign, saying if legislators don't the government would likely shutdown again and that he may declare a national emergency in order to build a border wall.

Last March, Cuellar voted for a bill containing $1.6 billion in funding for 33 miles of border wall in Hidalgo and Starr counties. Those 33 miles include wildlife refuges he is now seeking to protect. In that legislation, Cuellar did secure language that protected Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge from border wall construction.

A CLOSER LOOK

SpaceX

SpaceX sits in the Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge on the Vista del Mar tract of land. According to Cuellar, SpaceX stands in the path of Trump's border wall plans. SpaceX has confirmed CBP sought access to survey its property, but has not commented further.

La Lomita

The Catholic chapel built in 1899 has a rich history with the Diocese of Brownsville's history in the Rio Grande Valley, but may end up being lost behind planned border wall south of Mission. The United States government has filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Brownsville seeking access to the property. The church is opposed on religious grounds.

National Butterfly Center

Executive Director Marianna Trevino Wright first confronted surveyors who entered the National Butterfly Center without permission last July. Much of the popular park will likely land behind the border wall and the CBP plans to destroy a strip of its pristine habitat for a 150-foot border enforcement zone.

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park

This Texas Parks and Wildlife Department park is popular with birders from around the world who flock to the Rio Grande Valley to see the abundance of birds that can be found here. However, it will likely also be impacted by border wall. Construction is scheduled to begin there this month.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

The federal government has eyed this refuge for border wall construction, but for now, it has been spared. The refuge provides habitat for the endangered ocelot and Gulf Coast jaguarundi.

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com

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