As a political fight rages in Washington over President Trump’s demand for $ 5.7 billion in border wall funding, there have been spirited acts of resistance on the United States-Mexico border.
Protests have been held. Resolutions passed. And initiatives funded to help the very people the wall is aimed to keep out.
[This month, we’re launching a limited-run weekly newsletter about life on the border, far from the tug-of-war of Washington politics. Sign up here to receive the first issue of Crossing the Border when it launches.]
In South Texas, It’s Butterflies vs. the Border Wall
Bulldozers arrived last week near the National Butterfly Center in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, signaling the Trump administration’s intention to begin construction on a steel and concrete barrier that would swallow more than two-thirds of the 100-acre wildlife refuge and botanical garden. The nonprofit center, which abuts the Rio Grande, sits on the path of a six-mile stretch of wall that has already been funded.
Federal government officials had said construction was scheduled to begin this month, despite an ongoing lawsuit filed by the center more than a year ago, said the center’s director, Marianna Trevino Wright. The center planned to file a restraining order to prevent workers from beginning construction on the wall, which would rise to 36 feet in some areas.
The federal government waived 28 environmental laws to expedite construction.
The Rio Grande Valley is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the country and a major bird migration corridor, with more than 500 species recorded.
In a GoFundMe campaign that has raised more than half of a $ 100,000 goal to pay for legal fees associated with ongoing litigation against the Trump administration, the center's director wrote that the issue “is not whether butterflies can fly over a wall, but whether private property (farms, businesses, homes) should be seized and destroyed for a project that does not serve the greater good or enhance national security.”
El Paso Residents Outraged at President’s Claims
In his State of the Union speech last Tuesday evening, Mr. Trump claimed the border city of El Paso, Tex., was once among America’s most violent cities — until a “powerful barrier” was constructed. And then, “immediately upon its building,” it became “one of the safest cities in our country.”
But that is not true. Before border fencing was erected in El Paso, the city of about 680,000 residents had the second-lowest violent crime rate among more than 20 cities of similar size. In 2010, after the barrier was built, that rate held that spot.
Residents and elected officials immediately took to social media to dispel the notion that border cities are dangerous.
Mr. Trump is scheduled to hold a 2020 campaign rally Monday in El Paso, where about 26 percent of registered voters cast ballots for him two years ago. El Paso is also the hometown of Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic former congressman who has said he’s considering jumping into the crowded field of candidates vying to challenge the president.
Few elected officials were enthusiastic about the president’s coming visit, with one, State Representative César J. Blanco, issuing a statement that said the president’s “fear-mongering and lies have hurt our border economy and community.” Mr. Blanco, a Navy veteran and Democrat whose House District 76 includes part of El Paso County, said the city “should not be rolling out the red carpet, so he can come lie in our backyard.”
The city’s Republican mayor, Dee Margo, also quickly defended El Paso, saying on Twitter late Tuesday night that the city’s law enforcement officers kept the border community safe.
New Mexico Orders Withdrawal of National Guard Troops
Shortly before Mr. Trump appeared before Congress last week to deliver a speech that would again include arguments for a border wall, New Mexico’s governor announced she had ordered a partial withdrawal of National Guard troops from her state.
“New Mexico will not take part in the president’s charade of border fear-mongering by misusing our diligent National Guard troops,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, said in a statement. Her decision was a reversal of her predecessor’s deployment of 118 National Guard personnel last April.
And in California on Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom was expected to follow suit and order the withdrawal of nearly 400 state National Guard troops from deployment along the border with Mexico. Under a “general order” that his aides said he planned to sign, 110 California National Guard troops would be redirected to support the state’s central fire agency, Cal Fire, and another 100 would work on statewide “intelligence operations” aimed at international criminal drug gangs.
In New Mexico, about a dozen guardsmen will remain in the southwestern part of the state, Ms. Grisham said, to help with humanitarian aid for migrants who cross the border into the United States. She also directed the deployment of six state police officers to assist local law enforcement officers in Hidalgo County, saying she recognized the county’s “legitimate concerns” about the number of asylum seekers arriving in the state.
Hundreds of migrants have surrendered to the Border Patrol in New Mexico in recent weeks, including children in need of immediate medical care — a situation state officials say is without precedent.
Prompting these trips to ever-more-remote border locations: The nearly 700 miles of border wall and fencing built since 2006, and the Trump administration’s increasingly rigid immigration policies aimed at deterring the flow of migrant families, mostly from Central America, who have streamed in from Mexico since 2014.
Gov. Grisham took aim at Mr. Trump’s proposed wall in a video that went viral this week.
Nogales City Council: No Barbed Wire
About 20,000 people live in Nogales, Ariz., and close to another half-million live across the border in Nogales, Mexico. A fence about 10 feet tall divides the two, but like most communities along the United States-Mexico border, their economies, cultures and daily lives are intertwined.
In November, the United States military descended on Nogales and promptly got to work installing barbed wire at the port of entry and atop the international border wall. This month, the military added horizontal strands of wire to the United States side of the fence, from the top of the wall to the ground.
Last Wednesday evening, the Nogales City Council passed a resolution condemning the installation of the wire, calling it an “indiscriminate use of lethal force” that is “typically only found in a war, battlefield or prison setting.” With its sharp razor-like blades, barbed wire is “designed to entangle its victim as the razors slice/cut deeply in to the flesh” and would kill anyone who tried to scale the wall.
The City Council said it wanted the federal government to remove the wire, and has vowed to sue the Trump administration if that does not happen. The resolution came one day after Mr. Trump addressed the nation and implored Americans to support his case for a border wall.
Barbed wire has been installed on fencing across Arizona, Texas and California.
California Approves Funding to Help Asylum Seekers
In California, where about 105 miles of the state’s 140-mile border with Mexico have some sort of fencing, elected officials have pushed back against the Trump administration’s pledge to fill in the spaces. Residents of Calexico, a small border town that recently saw the completion of renovations to a steel barrier, chafed at the barbed wire that also was installed, with one chalking it up to political propaganda from a White House that cannot fathom life along the southwest frontier.
Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California asked state lawmakers to provide $ 5 million in immediate funding to local charities that help asylum seekers. The aid would be followed by another $ 20 million over three years, intended to assist groups that have helped migrants who were dropped off by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at bus stations.
As the number of migrant families in recent months has overwhelmed the government’s detention facilities, the Trump administration has drastically reduced its efforts to ensure the migrants’ safety after they are released. Stepping into the void has been a growing network of charities, expanding along the border from California to Texas.