National Butterfly Center Sues Trump Administration Over Border Wall

“Everyone should care when the federal government thinks it can do whatever it wants on your private property.”

The National Butterfly Center filed a lawsuit in Washington D.C. Monday against the Department of Homeland Security demanding that the Trump administration conduct federally required environmental assessments, and follow the constitution and legal due process before attempting to build a border wall through the 100-acre nature and wildlife sanctuary in South Texas.

In late July, Marianna Treviño-Wright, executive director of the center, discovered contractors working for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) using chainsaws to clear protected habitat and widening an existing roadway on the center’s property to make way for a border wall. The butterfly center is home to at least 100 species of butterfly, and serves as critical habitat for the migration of the threatened Monarch butterfly.

Machinery used by workers to clear the area within the National Butterfly Center for a border wall.  Marianna Treviño-Wright/National Butterfly Center

Dr. Jeffrey Glassberg, president of the North American Butterfly Association, which owns and runs the center,  said that in recent weeks agents from U.S. Border Patrol had told visitors that they weren’t authorized to enter the sanctuary, because it was off-limits. “The center is private property,” he said. “It doesn’t belong to the federal government.  We believe the federal government has been behaving illegally and in a really egregious fashion in many different ways, so we’re seeking an injunction to try and have the courts make them behave in a way that is consistent with the law and the constitution.”

In the lawsuit, the center is accusing the federal government of unlawful incursion, deprivation of due process and violating the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, which mandates that the federal government conduct an environmental assessment prior to making decisions on construction and other major projects. In the lawsuit, the center also seeks restitution for its legal fees.

The National Butterfly Center is also home to endangered animal species such as the Texas tortoise and Texas horned lizard, and endangered plant species including the slender rushpea and Walker’s manioc. The sanctuary is part of the lower Rio Grande Valley Wildlife Corridor, which includes the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, another threatened wildlife habitat being targeted for Trump’s border wall.

RELATED: Records Show Where Trump Plans to Build Texas Border Wall

If the wall is built through the center, according to the lawsuit, it will “cut off two-thirds of the NBC, effectively destroying the Center and leaving behind a 70-acre no-man’s land between the proposed border wall and the Rio Grande.”

“We understand that not everyone in the country may be as interested in butterflies or in the environment as we are,” said Glassberg. “But everyone should care when the government thinks it can do whatever it wants on your private property.”

The Department of Homeland Security has not yet responded to the lawsuit, said Glassberg.

Melissa del Bosque is a staff writer and a 2016-17 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.

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Published at 2:35 pm CST
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