Associated Press

Butterflies vs. Border Wall: Federal Judge Dismisses Conservationists’ Attempt to Block Wall Construction

"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"

021519 monarch butterfly
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A butterfly conservation organization tried to stop border wall construction on its property in South Texas, but a federal judge dismissed their case.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled against the National Butterfly Center on Thursday.

Overall, the Butterfly Center said construction of a wall will destroy butterflies' habitat, create flooding and block some species of butterflies and birds from moving north and south.

But Leon rejected the group's claims.

"Unfortunately for plaintiff, the Fourth Amendment offers little refuge for unenclosed land near one of the country's external borders," his opinion says. 

"No factual allegations suggest that defendants entered or searched without consent any physical structures on the Center's property," Leon continued.

In a motion filed earlier this week, Butterfly Center director Marianna Trevino Wright said heavy machinery was driven through their property for a week, including a road grader accompanied by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle. Wright alleged that someone had cut the lock on a center fence and replaced it with a lock belonging to CBP.

At its heart, the legal action is about "Constitutional protections, the right to due process, the illegal waiver of laws duly enacted by Congress and the lawlessness of the federal government's actions," Wright said in a statement.

An online campaign to cover related legal costs had raised more than $102,000 as of Friday. 

"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," the page says.

CBP has announced it will start this month on the first of 33 miles of new walls and fencing in South Texas' Rio Grande Valley. Congress funded construction last year.

Heavy construction equipment started to appear last week in the Rio Grande Valley, the southernmost region of Texas. Facing strong opposition from many landowners, CBP has said it will start construction on federally owned land, likely on property that's part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

The planned construction would eventually cut through the butterfly center, a state park and a century-old chapel on the bank of the Rio Grande, the river that forms the Texas-Mexico border.

"We will not stand idly by as the bulldozers roll in," Wright said in a statement.

While the construction Congress funded last March was labeled by many as fencing, CBP's plans call for a concrete wall that extends to the height of the existing levee, topped by 18-foot steel bollards and with a 150-foot enforcement zone cleared in front.

And more construction may soon be funded. Congressional negotiators trying to avoid another government shutdown reached an agreement Monday to fund an additional 55 miles of barriers in the Rio Grande Valley.

Top Republicans declared victory over Democrats who have vowed not to fund a border wall, saying that they had won support for new barriers anyway.

Scott Nicol, a longtime resident of the valley and co-chair of the Sierra Club's Borderlands team, accused Congress of continuing "to play word games" and "ignoring the real, on-the-ground damage that border walls will inflict."

"These new border walls will destroy homes and farms and wildlife refuges, just like the ones Congress funded in 2018," Nicol said.

The butterfly center and its governing body, the North American Butterfly Association, asked in their motion to ban government agents from "taking any action" on center property "in furtherance of the construction of a border wall."

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. 

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