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Trump’s Border Wall Is Destroying Land, Livelihoods, and Butterflies in the Rio Grande

"You may learn about eminent domain, but until you are in the crosshairs of the government, you don't understand how it really works."

"You may learn about eminent domain, but until you are in the crosshairs of the government, you don't understand how it really works," says Marianna Trevino-Wright, the director of the National Butterfly Center, a 100-acre private wildlife refuge located in Texas near the U.S. border with Mexico. "They invoke it, they take your land, and they do what they want."

The National Butterfly Center, or NABA, is directly in the path of Donald Trump's planned border wall. Part of the Rio Grande Valley Conservation Corridor, it's home to the largest concentration of butterflies in North America.

The border wall project is moving ahead in the Rio Grande Valley. In the 2018 omnibus spending bill, Congress authorized one component of the project, a 33-mile section of fencing running through the Valley. And the Department of Homeland Security is threatening to use eminent domain to seize the land.

The National Butterfly Center's land will be cut in two by the border wall—70 percent of the preserve will become contiguous with Mexico and difficult to access. The government is also planning to establish a "control zone" for monitoring illegal entrants, which will mean clearing up to 200 yards of vegetation, specifically planted to host butterflies, on the river side of the wall. That land could be taken through eminent domain.

"The border wall is doing what General Santa Anna couldn't do 150 years ago," says Trevino-Wright. "He couldn't push the border of Mexico north of the Rio Grande River, and that is what the border wall is doing."

Fred Cavazos and his cousin Rey Anzaldua are descended from Spanish settlers who, in the 1700s, were awarded land grants in the Valley. The house where the Cavazos lives will end up on the U.S. side of the wall, but much of his land and rental properties fall on the Mexican side, making them difficult to access. He says they'll likely become worthless.

"Everytime we turn around, they are trying to take land from us," says Anzaldua. "They say it's for the good of the community. But what about our own good? Who's compensating us for all this land we're losing? Nobody. They give us peanuts for it."

Anzaldua says the family has had enough, and plans to fight any government efforts to take the land.

That could backfire on the Cavazos family and the Valley landowners. In 2008, when the Bush administration was building an immigration barrier in the neighboring town of Brownsville, the Department of Homeland Security exploited loopholes in the law meant to protect property owners.

Today landowners are still fighting for what they consider just compensation for the land they lost a decade ago. "There are still 90 lawsuits open now," says Trevino-Wright, "because their land was taken with no compensation."

Trevino-Wright says NABA's property rights are being trampled in other ways as well. Federal immigration law gives the agency the authority to search and patrol private property within 25 miles of the border without obtaining a warrant. "They drag tires, they have drones and helicopters, they have agents on foot, on bicycle, on dirt bike, on horse, on four-wheeler, in SUVs, on boat on our shores," she says. "Every kind of presence you can imagine."

The government doesn't have the authority to enter and alter private property in preparation for the border wall, but Trevino-Wright says that she encountered a group of government contractors on the Butterfly Center's property clearing foliage that had been planted to host butterflies. When she asked them what they were doing there, she was told a representative from U.S. Border Patrol would contact her. A few days later Manuel Padilla, who's the chief border patrol agent for the Rio Grande Valley, paid the Butterfly Center a visit.

"He showed up unannounced, in plain clothes, and his attache, and a uniformed border agent," says Trevino-Wright. Padilla presented plans for the border wall to Trevino-Wright, and according to her account, said the contractors would be back. This time he was accompanied by a "green uniformed presence."

"So I asked him about that later," Trevino-Wright says. "Do I understand you correctly, that you are sending armed federal agents onto private property to protect your contractors?"

NABA decided to take legal action, suing the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection on the grounds they have exceeded their authority.

"You know, private property is supposed to be for the owner and their enjoyment and use and purpose," Trevino-Wright says. "Well, we don't enjoy that here. Our land, according to Border Patrol, is theirs to do with as they please."

The lawsuit also alleges that the government violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. Although Wright doesn't believe the lawsuit will delay construction of the border wall, she hopes it will force the government to adhere to the measures meant to keep it accountable.

After the lawsuit was filed, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol sent a form letter to every property owner in the area, asking for 18 months of irrevocable access so the agency can survey the land to prepare for construction. Many owners, including NABA and the Cavazos family, refused to sign.

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  • JoeJoetheIdiotCircusBoy||

    pshh, Reason must be pretty desperate (or totally succumbed to TDS) if the best they can come up with is butterflies. Butterflies don't make America great people! Armed agents on private property does!

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    Perhaps not the butterflies but the squirrels! They're doing articles now.

  • JesseAz||

    Wonder if woke read writers know butterflies can fly....

    Plus the trash left behind by the migrants trains is far more damaging than the wall. Is research not requited to be a reason writer?

  • Echospinner||

    Look at the website. It is actually a very nice place. A nature preserve with a visitor center, trails, guides, educational activities for kids. Lots of other wildlife. High ratings on trip advisor. I would take the family there.

    These people worked very hard to build their nature center and we can joke about it but this is their property and livelihood. When you find a bunch of uniforms on your property tearing it up with chainsaws it is your right to challenge it.

    Are we libertarians or what?

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    I agree with this.

  • rocks||

    So why did they build this facility across an international boarder? It is not a single property, but two separate properties on divided by boarders.

    People are responsible for the consequences of their decisions, at least that is what people supposedly believe here, and that was a dumb decision that was always going to catch up to them eventually.

  • Echospinner||

    Because that is where the butterflies are. It is right next to parks and a big nature preserve so there is a lot of wildlife there, birds, animals.

    That is why the government is doing this. They do not need permission to put a wall through the Santa Anna refuge. They want to continue it though the Butterfly center.

    It is all inside the US and private property. Americans cannot even buy property in Mexico. It is within 25 miles of the border which the government claims access to.

    There was no way they nor anyone else could have predicted Trump and his wall. There were no issues until now.

    I never heard of the bad decision principle. This is the one I know "Being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions." (Locke)

    If you want to say I don't care about that, the wall must be built and you have to crack some eggs to do that then fine. The libertarian case could not be more clear.

    Be careful what you wish for. If the government can seize your land in the name of national security the next one can seize that rifle you keep in the closet on the same pretext. There is no moral difference. All they need is the right set of judges or congress.

  • HillTown Trader||

    This is a bit like people buying land next to an airport and then screaming bloody murder because the plains are loud. Give me a break; its an international border! Of course national authorirties will need access.

  • MJBinAL||

    So, let's be really clear here.

    We, as libertarians, have been quite justifiably upset over thhe Kelo decision, and the use of eminent domain to take private property for PRIVATE use.

    Have we now decided that eminent domain is also inappropriate for PUBLIC use? No use of eminent domain to build a military base?

    The use of eminent domain to obtain land to build the wall is a similar justification to a military base. The wall can't be built somewhere else and serve it's function and is intended to serve a national security function. If this is not an appropriate use of eminent domain, then there isn't an appropriate use of eminent domain.

    If the position is that there is never a justified use of eminent domain, that is a new and different battle, and one that few are going to support. It appears to me that it is used here as just another way to oppose a policy (limiting free and unmonitored movement across borders) that you don't like.

  • Uncle Jay||

    Oh no!
    Not the butterflies.
    Anything but the butterflies.
    (Wipes streaming tears from his face.)

  • rferris||

    A pathetic excuse to oppose a border barrier. I doubt the author has ever been to the Texas border areas.
    Reason disappoints again..................what is going on at Reason that they can not find better material???

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Forcible seizure of privately owned land is a pathetic excuse?

  • jonnysage||

    It's not forcible. The govt was actually given the power to do so for this very reason. To protect the states from invasion. They should be justly compensated but otherwise, tough.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    It's not forcible? What if you refuse? What if you don't agree with the "just" compensation?

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    You have redress through civil court.

  • Echospinner||

    Oh what a great deal that is.

    You want to buy my house I can say I am not selling or ask how much.

    The government wants to "buy" my house. Backed by law enforcement they set the price and tell me when I need to vacate.

    You can go to civil courts. That works out great. Years later. So I get to go back to your guys to redress the situation. We know how that goes.

    If libertarians are not for individual property rights we stand for nothing.

  • rocks||

    There are many cases of government seizure that are wrong and where the government abused the purpose of asset seizure laws. Taking land so real estate developers can build is a prime example.

    But this is not an abuse of government, this case is exactly why asset seizure exists. And why provisions were prescribed in the constitution itself.

    If you own property on a board that is under invasion, the government has the right to seize it to protect its borders. That fucking obvious.

  • MJBinAL||

    So, let's be really clear here.

    We, as libertarians, have been quite justifiably upset over the Kelo decision, and the use of eminent domain to take private property for PRIVATE use.

    Have we now decided that eminent domain is also inappropriate for PUBLIC use? No use of eminent domain to build a military base?

    The use of eminent domain to obtain land to build the wall is a similar justification to a military base. The wall can't be built somewhere else and serve it's function and is intended to serve a national security function. If this is not an appropriate use of eminent domain, then there isn't an appropriate use of eminent domain.

    If the position is that there is never a justified use of eminent domain, that is a new and different battle, and one that few are going to support. It appears to me that it is used here as just another way to oppose a policy (limiting free and unmonitored movement across borders) that you don't like.

    "If libertarians are not for individual property rights we stand for nothing.If libertarians are not for individual property rights we stand for nothing."

    If you believe that there is NEVER a justification for the government to use eminent domain, they you are not a libertarian, but rather a anarchist. It is your right to be an anarchist of course, but you advocate the disbanding of the nation-state and that is beyond libertarian thought and into full anarchism.

  • jonnysage||

    You already agreed in the Constitution. And gave the courts the power to judge.

  • Presskh||

    Unicorn, this is no different than the government acquiring private land through eminent domain to build roads or dams. It's been going on a long time and some people do get really pissed when they don't want to give up their land.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Today landowners are still fighting for what they consider just compensation for the land they lost a decade ago. "There are still 90 lawsuits open now," says Trevino-Wright, "because their land was taken with no compensation."

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Are you really this much of a pants shitting, Pearl clutching, hyperbolic , overly emotional fool?

    Really?

    Your strawman isn't even well made.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    It's not a strawman, jackass. It's a direct quote from the article.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Then why reprint the straw man from the article? And you didn't answer my question.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    A straw man is an act of rephrasing an opponent's argument in order to make it easy to knock down. The statement from the article does not do this, and thus your question is based upon a false premise.

    Also I was driving home from work, and I don't owe you a thing.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Ok, so the answer is clearly yes. You are a pearl clutching, pants shitting, hyperbolic, overly emotional fool. You just don't have the balls to come out and admit it.

    And yes, you used a straw man, at least by proxy. Nice try though.

    Oh, and you owe me whatever the fuck I say you do. Your vexatious commentary incurs a debt.

  • Grabthar's Hammer||

    Concur.

  • NashTiger||

    straw men make excellent butterfly habitat

  • JesseAz||

    I'd be careful of any quote that implies zero compensation. Inadequate and you'd have a reasonable quote. None... You're dealing with a lying lawyer.

  • Fk_Censorship||

    It could be zero compensation if the government took only part of the land but made the remaining private property inaccessible or much less valuable. The government would still only compensate for what they actually took.

  • jonnysage||

    Point?

  • Truthteller1||

    Give me a break Reason.

  • Fancylad||

    "TRUMP'S KILLING BUTTERFLIES!!!1!1!!!"

    This is all it takes to keep getting invites to Georgetown dinner parties as the token libertarian.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Those parties must be pretty awesome to justify writing this drivel. All to be an Uncle Tom on the Progtard Plamtation. Yet still have the progressives look down their noses at them for being libertarian.

  • JesseAz||

    Look... If a butterfly is too fucking stupid to fly over a wall they deserve to go the way of getting to dodo.

  • MJBinAL||

    LOL, in fairness, this is not really about the butterflies, it is about the folks who want to go to a park and LOOK at butterflies. As you note, the butterflies will get along just fine.

  • Echospinner||

    The border agents disturbing the butterflies have no idea how many tornadoes they may be causing.

  • Longtobefree||

    "specifically planted to host butterflies"

    So these fiends are baiting the area, deliberately attempting to alter the natural ecosystem just for their own pleasure?
    Off with their heads! To the barricades!

  • swampwiz||

    But if they go after the caterpillars, then it's fightin' time!

  • jjsaz||

    They can't move the butterfly sanctuary a little North? Please. There is an almost unlimited amount of scrub-brush near the Rio Grande. This is nonsense.

    Now these others, that is a pain, but building right on a border was dumb. They can get other land in compensation. This is what Eminent Domain is actually for, as opposed to handing it to a private developer.

    That all said, the Wall is moronic. They can surveil it electronically. They already do and much of that border is impassible.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Texas joined the union in what, 1850, plus or minus a decade? From then until about two decades ago there wasn't much fuss over building a wall/fence on the border. So when the center formed in the early 90s, there was no reason to be worried about the government trying to seize the land.

    But sure, they're "dumb" for not being prophetic.

  • JesseAz||

    30k crossings a month is impassable?

  • Echospinner||

    So libertarian principles as to property rights only apply to the smart. Screw the dumbs who thought the land they purchased was actually theirs.

  • Headache||

    "it's home to the largest concentration of butterflies in North America"

    Once again, the Reason Staff is runner up.

  • crufus||

    Jack booted thugs seizing private property so they can build a wall is what freedom is all about.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    You mean purchasing. They actually do have to buy it.

  • crufus||

    Purchasing implies some sort of mutual consent to a transaction, not being forced to yield your property to jack booted thugs at pennies on the dollar.

  • buybuydandavis||

    "Won't someone please think of the butterflies?!"

    Bwahahahaha!

    I guess appealing to the sparks of divinity in MS13 wasn't working so well.

  • Echospinner||

    Actually I don't care if they are raising butterflies, sheep or kangaroos. It is still their land.

    How is this different than the government just walking up to the property owners shed and seizing tools and concrete because "we need it"? "But don't worry we will pay you $20."

    First of all I don't want to sell my tools. Second if this is a transaction I want $500.

    Too bad sucker. We got guns.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    I'm not a huge fan of eminent domain laws, but they are sometimes a necessary evil. Especially where the border is concerned.

    "How is this different than the government just walking up to the property owners shed and seizing tools and concrete because "we need it"? "But don't worry we will pay you $20.""

    It's a lot different, and much more complicated than that. Do I seriously need to explain the eminent domain process to you? Maybe you should go look it up yourself.

  • Echospinner||

    Sure it is pages and pages of legal means for the government to confiscate individual property. Of course it is complicated who wrote it?

    From innocent people who are doing nothing wrong.

    Like this is new in history.

  • HillTown Trader||

    I find the "surprise" at federal authorities wanted access to the border a bit shallow and false.

    Of course federal authoriites want access --- ITS AN INTERNATIONAL BORDER. Duhhh.

    Did the buyers not notice this glaring fact when they bought the property?

  • Grabthar's Hammer||

    The horror, the horror.

  • Grabthar's Hammer||

    No, they don't taste like chicken. More like spindly bugs.

  • Homple||

    So that means the wall is beibg buily
    Hot damn@

  • Homple||

    Being built. Hot damn!

  • The gouch||

    Yeah the "TREE HUGGER'S" did the same thing with the "Spotted Owl"..

  • Mark22||

    Support illegal border crossings and higher taxes because of... butterflies! Libertarianism demands it!

  • JFree||

    Perhaps a story about a six year old being molested by an older kid at a zero tolerance detention center is more to your preference.

  • Mark22||

    Yeah, I wonder what kind of jerk of a parent drags their kids along for an illegal border crossing. It's about as bad as dragging your kid along for a bank heist.

    Of course, we can fix that problem by refusing to hear their asylum cases and sending them back to Mexico immediately.

  • Mark22||

    Support illegal border crossings and higher taxes because of... butterflies! Libertarianism demands it!

  • Mark22||

    Support illegal border crossings and higher taxes because of... butterflies! Libertarianism demands it!

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    "Libertarians" support govt seizure of private property because butterflies are for tree-hugger snowflake fags.

  • Mark22||

    This issue has nothing to do with libertarianism either way: it's a non-libertarian problem in a non-libertarian country.

    Under current US law, the federal government can take land in return for just compensation in order to do its job; its job is border protection, hence it can legally take that land. Observing that is neither libertarian nor non-libertarian, it's just a legal fact.

  • Deelerious||

    "...nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

    So the only question here is what is "just compensation"? Assessed value of land? Probable private sale of land? Whatever the Feds toss on your table?

  • MJBinAL||

    This is a different question. The easy answer is market value. If the butterfly park has entertained purchase offers in the past, then those might form a basis. The cost to replace the property including the cost to duplicate the improvements, plus business losses in the interrum would be relevent.

    The point is, it is possible to get fair compensation for the property.

  • Deelerious||

    "...nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

    So the only question here is what is "just compensation"? Assessed value of land? Probable private sale of land? Whatever the Feds toss on your table?

  • mpercy||

    All kinds of wrong here, but remember that when they wanted to snatch land from private citizens to give to commercial developers to "redevelop" it so as to increase the tax collections on it, leftists cheered. At least protecting the border from incursion is a proper function of goverment.

    Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005),[1] was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States involving the use of eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another private owner to further economic development. In a 5–4 decision, the Court held that the general benefits a community enjoyed from economic growth qualified private redevelopment plans as a permissible "public use" under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

    The case arose in the context of condemnation by the city of New London, Connecticut, of privately owned real property, so that it could be used as part of a "comprehensive redevelopment plan." However, the private developer was unable to obtain financing and abandoned the redevelopment project, leaving the land as an undeveloped empty lot.[2]

  • cja||

    Better that a life of a butterfly be protected than the laws of a Republic or the life of an American citizen.

    A single butterfly has tremendous value, while the numerous laws and citizens pale in comparison

  • WJack||

    It is ok if we don't have a country, just don't disturb the butterflies.

  • Homple||

    ^^This

  • Homple||

    So this means they're actually building the wall?
    Yay!

  • JWC||

    The government has often used eminent domain laws for questionable and even unconstitutional reasons. From my understanding, Donald Trump, real estate developer, has often used eminent domain laws in ways that are questionable and unconstitutional, and to his own benefit. This use of them, while unfortunate, is completely in keeping with the government's obligation to protect its citizens and defend its borders. The butterflies and the butterfly sanctuary will simply have to find an alternative home. I have no doubt that they will be fine, whatever the inconvenience. I wish I felt as secure about Reason's future if they continue pushing their silly, open borders, Utopian nonsense.

  • MJBinAL||

    If they stop pushing the open border's policies, then US wages might not be pushed down as much, and the Kochs might stop sending Reason checks.

    Follow. The. Money.

  • gphx||

    'The wall is destroying butterflies!'

    Those are just NeverTrump pussies flying around in confusion.

  • ballard1||

    Butterflies can fly over "Illegals" can't. Thats the whole point. You lost deal with it.
    As your hero obamaroid said..."Elections have consequences"

  • HillTown Trader||

    If you buy property on an international border, wouldn't it be logical to assume that federal authorities will want to have access along the border?

    Its like buying land under a power line. Its hard to not notice this massive thing on your land, and eventually someone is going to show up to access the thing.

    Being "shocked" at federal authorities wanting access to a border area is about as "shocking" as being surprised by Christmas every year. No tears or gasps of surprise here.

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