In the latest round of anti-immigrant propagandizing by the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol sector and their allies in the media, the Valley community was told that “clothing, trash left behind by immigrants [is] posing risk to nature reserve.”

Community response to the story, published Tuesday by Sinclair-owned KGBT, has been one of disgust and indignation for insinuating that immigrants pose risks to wildlife and the environment, and for omitting any mention of risks posed by the construction of more border wall, a project that the U.S. Border Patrol strongly advocates.

Additional border wall construction threatens to sever the wildlife corridor and further the ecocide of the brushlands native to the Valley, of which less than 5 percent remain.

Who’s littering?

The littering insinuations were especially disturbing to environmental and immigration rights activists who frequently visit the border wall. They often find littering by Border Patrol agents, who leave behind trash from their lunch breaks. They also find bags printed with the CBP emblem, intended to hold the personal belongings of detained immigrants but discarded by the agents. Meanwhile, Border Patrol agents strip detained immigrants and refugees of belongings such as shoelaces. They dump those belongings, then claim that the immigrants leave the litter.

Shoelaces taken from immigrants then littered by Border Patrol agents at the Hidalgo Pumphouse, March 2017 | Photo by Debbie Nathan

Jackie Treviño, a naturalist and organizer for the No Border Wall Coalition, a local, grassroots movement opposed to all border walls and for immigrant rights, found the statements made by Border Patrol “insulting” and “infuriating.” The lifelong Valley resident called it “laughable” that the Border Patrol would imply they want to protect wildlife “when they plan to clearcut the exact land they’re talking about.”  

Treviño told Neta that much of the litter that Border Patrol agents take are immigrants’ belongings that are put into plastic bags with an ID number, like those shown in the photo above. The tab is then removed and is supposed to be given to the detainees for safekeeping upon release.

Instead, Treviño said, much of the litter consists of “those tabs that are just being dropped on the ground with no regard to the person ever being able to get their valuables back. They also remove shoelaces from the people and will just leave them there on the side of the wall.”

Scott Nicol, a naturalist and co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands team, has also found CBP personal belongings bags by the border, as well as other items.

“When they take somebody and take away their stuff and say, ‘You can’t have this while you’re in custody,’ that stuff is supposed to be put in a plastic bag,” said Nicol, who has lived on the border for 15 years. “But if you go out to the places where people are processed, there are shoelaces everywhere, belts all over the place, articles of clothing. I’ve found documents, I’ve found Guatemalan quetzales out in the brush, and I’ve found the bag tabs,” Nicol elaborated.

Documents and currency found by the Hidalgo Pumphouse in December 2016 | Photo by Scott Nicol

Nicol said that even when immigrants’ belongings get bagged, “If they don’t have that tab with the number, they can’t show that this stuff in this bag is theirs.” This results in many of the immigrants’ possessions being tossed,  “which they probably would not want to have happened.”

“Even if you say you can’t have shoelaces while you’re incarcerated, you should still give them their shoelaces back when they’re let go.” Nicol said that at the migrant shelters south of the border, where people are deported, they don’t have shoelaces. Nor do some have important documents. “I’ve found birth certificates and stuff out on the brush too,” Nicol said, “Stuff that people seriously need to have.”

“Ludicrous” and “a joke” were terms used by Dr. Jeffrey Glassberg, founder of the National Butterfly Center in Mission, to describe the Border Patrol’s claim that “littering” by immigrants causes special harm to the area’s wildlife. He said that all human activity, including legal activity, has the potential to harm wildlife.

Undocumented immigrants might leave clothing and diapers behind, Glassberg said, but the quantity of those materials is “not very much,” and the Center does not consider them an issue. He called the Sinclair-owned station’s story “fake news.”

Meanwhile, Mariana Treviño-Wright, executive director of the Butterfly Center, has found soft drink cans, bags, and Stripes food wrappers left by Border Patrol agents near places their vehicles park to patrol. Staff at the Butterfly Center pick up the trash without complaint.

A glove littered by Border Patrol agents, used to handle immigrants, lest they make contact | Photo by Debbie Nathan

Propaganda

We tried to find out how the Sinclair story originated. Such stories tend to begin with a press release from a governmental agency to media. We asked Santiago Caícedo, a reporter for KGBT, if he received a press release from CBP. He did not respond to our messages.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife was also contacted. They told us that “the clean-up was organized and supervised by Customs and Border Patrol.  To [our] knowledge they did not issue a press release, as it was not a public event.”

CBP did not respond to requests for comment as of Saturday. It remains unclear who the youth were whom the story mentioned as cleaning the litter.  

Treviño “absolutely believes” that the story originated with Border Patrol.

Treviño-Wright told Neta that RGV Border Patrol Sector Chief Manuel Padilla visited the Butterfly Center last August with a poster showcasing trash supposedly left by immigrants to justify building new border walls.

“One of the posters had…empty water jugs…blue jeans, a t-shirt. I told him, ‘Don’t even go there with that as some justification for your project,’” Treviño-Wright said. “So yeah. It’s totally Border Patrol’s doing.”

Treviño-Wright said that Padilla took the same posters to the City of Mission when he met with the city manager and former mayor, Beto Salinas. The City of Mission is one of at least 20 cities in the Rio Grande Valley that passed a resolution formally opposing the construction of a border wall. CBP also took the material to “other meetings that they had with elected officials.”

An entire website in Arizona is dedicated to “the environmental impact caused by illegal immigration and the trash left behind.” The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, the equivalent of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, both in function and uselessness, runs the website.

Flyer courtesy of Reclaim the River event organizers

Reclaiming truth, reclaiming the river

The number of people who rejected the Sinclair article when published on social media is growing as the community sees through CBP’s propaganda campaign.

The National Butterfly Center will be hosting a community event to Reclaim the River from 9 AM to 2 PM on the banks of the Rio Grande on Sunday, August 12. Activities will consist of Segway Test Drives, Butterflying, Tug O’ War, Fishing, Bird Walks, Guided Hikes, Native Wildlife Petting Zoo and Pet Adoption.

Reclaiming the River aims to reclaim the heritage native to the borderlands lost to militarization and fear. On Sunday, border residents of the Rio Grande Valley will defy these things with community and life.

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