The National Butterfly Center in South Texas sent a certified letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Wednesday stating its intent to sue over the construction of a border wall on its private property.
In July, Marianna Trevino-Wright, executive director of the center, discovered private contractors working for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) using chainsaws on protected habitat and widening a roadway on the center’s property to make way for the wall.
The letter alleges this is a violation of the center’s private property rights. Though exceptions exist for government workers maintaining levees for flood control, the National Butterfly Center’s attorney says the “conduct is outside the scope” of those permissions. “The express purpose of this entry and destruction is to enable the construction of a border wall,” the letter reads.
“This is a much bigger issue than the National Butterfly Center,” Jeffrey Glassberg, president of the nonprofit, told the Observer in August. “There’s a procedure the government could follow with due process. But they’ve decided — like with so much else — to just ignore the law, trampling on private property rights. The complete disrespect for the legalities of this country is something that ought to concern every American regardless of how they feel about a border wall.”
Glassberg said he believed the nonprofit had no other recourse than to announce its intentions to file suit against the government.
In the letter, the National Butterfly Center also alleges the agencies are violating the Endangered Species Act by not studying the environmental consequences of the wall, consulting with agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or taking steps to conserve threatened and endangered species.
The Rio Grande Valley is the “last remaining habitat for the endangered ocelot” and is a major migration corridor for more than 500 types of birds, the letter reads. The 100-acre privately owned sanctuary in Mission provides protected habitat for several endangered and threatened species, such as the tropical parula and the monarch butterfly.
The letter also accuses CBP of discrimination based on race, but provides minimal details, citing a “continued investigation.” The letter reads: “Stops and harassment of employees and visitors on the basis of perceived race and national origin constitutes a violation of these employees’ and visitors’ rights.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee tentatively approved $10 billion for a border wall under the Border Security for America Act, proposed by committee chair Michael McCaul, R-Austin. The bill advances to the full House but is unlikely to pass the Senate, where it would need a 60-vote majority, according to The Hill.
“To this date, we’ve still had no communication of any sort from the federal government,” Glassberg said. “We’re used to dealing with various entities and working out a solution, but given the present climate filing a lawsuit seems like our only option.”
Digital editor Kolten Parker contributed to this report.