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Butterfly Center asks judge to stop border wall activity on its property

Inside a massive monarch butterfly reserve

The nonprofit National Butterfly Center has asked a federal judge to stop border wall activity on its property as the Trump administration gears up to build new walls and fencing in South Texas. 

In a motion filed late Monday, center director Marianna Trevino Wright said heavy machinery has been driving through their property for a week, including a road grader accompanied by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) vehicle. Wright alleged that someone had cut the lock on a center fence and replaced it with a lock belonging to CBP.

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, the southernmost region of Texas. Congress funded construction last year.

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. 

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Marianna Trevino-Wright, Executive Director of the National Butterfly Center, talks during an interview with The Associated Press in Mission, Texas.  John L. Mone/AP

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. 

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.   

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. 

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A red-bordered pixie butterfly at the National Butterfly Center on Jan. 16, 2019 in Mission, Texas, a protected habitat along the Rio Grande. Suzanne Cordeiro / AFP/Getty Images

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. But government lawyers filed paperwork saying they would respond to the butterfly center's request by February 22.