Nature center along border challenging Trump administration on wall

MISSION, Texas (FOX 26) — The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, sits on a 100-acre private nature preserve that backs into the Rio Grande River. 

On a typical day, the sounds of the critters that call it home and the visitors on its trails are likely the only things you'll hear.

"We do sleepovers under the stars on the banks of the Rio Grande with Girl Scouts," said Marianna Treviño Wright, the center's executive director. However, that will change soon.

Wright said construction on a section of the border wall could begin as early as February. 

"They’re going to be bulldozing all of this habitat, all of these trees, during spring migration season," added Wright. She also said the plans call for a wall with an 18-foot tall vertrical concrete slab with 18-foot tall steel bollards on top.

Wright explained that funding for this section of the border wall was passed in the 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act. It alloted almost $1.6 billion for barriers and other forms of security along the southwest border. She said 70 percent of the of the preserve would be behind the wall.

"It’s not going to be right along the river," said Karla Vargas, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. "We will actually close off quite a big section of land." The non-profit group represents about half a dozen private landowners challenging the federal government's take over of their land including the National Butterfly Center.

The plans for the wall also outline a 150-foot enforcement zone.

"That land is going to be cleared and will have additional security features whether it be cameras [or] sensors," Vargas told FOX 26. "The land will be unusable essentially to a certain extent."

Wright said the nature preserve is home to more than 1,500 wildlife species including threatened Texas' species. She fears the animals would be stuck behind the wall in the floodplain.

"The loss of habitat, the seizure of private property, the disruption of business — those are issues," listed Wright. "And the illusion of security." She said in the more than 6 years she has worked at the center, they have only seen migrants on three occasions. They were either unaccompanied minors or families.

"My husband and I have six children. I report to work on the banks of the Rio Grande River every day. Would I do that I were not safe?," asked Wright rhetorically. She believes the wall would make the preserve unsafe. She said all 30,000 of the center's yearly visitors would have a gate code to access the other side of the wall. 

"If you’re a drug trafficker or human smuggler, all you have to do is send a family member to visit the National Butterfly Center and get the gate code," said Wright. She added that she supports border security, but ultimately believes the money for a wall in the Rio Grande Valley would be better spent on other forms of border security.

"They could buy over 800 fully loaded interceptor gun boats," estimated Wright.

About an hour drive from Mission, a 7th generation rancher said he wants the wall on his property. Click here for his story.