Trump’s ‘Emergency’ Border Wall Threatens My Home
By Luis Torres
For some people who live along the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump's attempt to declare a national emergency and extend the border wall is worse than a wasteful, unconstitutional stunt. It's an attack on their way of life that threatens to desecrate their loved ones' graves.
That's why Earthjustice is helping them take the Trump administration to court and put a halt to this abuse of power. On March 14, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of border residents including the Ramirez family of San Juan, Texas, who own the property where the 154-year-old Eli Jackson Cemetery is located. If construction on the border wall proceeds, it may require the exhumation and desecration of remains within the cemetery.
"President Trump's so-called border 'emergency' would make it harder for our family, our children, and our children's children to visit our loved ones' final resting places," says Dr. Ramiro Ramirez. "For months now, we've lived with the uncertainty of what might happen to our home, our cemetery, and the land we've lived on for generations. Enough is enough."
Our clients in this lawsuit also include the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas, whose ancestors inhabited the Rio Grande Valley for centuries and whose sacred sites would be disturbed by wall construction; Elsa Hall, a landowner on the border; the Rio Grande International Study Center (RGISC); and a number of local and national leaders representing affected communities.
Earthjustice senior legislative representative Luis Torres understands firsthand how additional miles of wall will rip apart communities. He grew up on the Texas side of the Rio Grande River, in a family that straddled the border. Here, he describes the border he knows and why we must fight Trump's wall.
Descendants of Eli Jackson stand in a 145-year-old Texan church that bears his name. Construction on Trump's border wall may desecrate a cemetery next to the church.
The following are remarks Torres originally prepared for "Voices from the Border: the Social and Environmental Impacts of the Border Wall," a congressional briefing hosted by GreenLatinos, Earthjustice, and United We Dream Action.
I was born and raised on the border, in the city of Laredo, Texas, which sits on the Rio Grande River across from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
If members of Congress knew the border I know, they wouldn't be negotiating over funding for a massive, hateful, unnecessary border wall.
Like many border residents, my family lived on the U.S. side but also had family, friends, and business on the Mexican side — el otro lado, we called it. Living on the border means celebrating American and Mexican holidays; it means having a barbecue on the Fourth of July and also sitting by the Rio Grande to watch the carnival lights of the annual feria expomex, the annual fair to kick off Mexican independence day festivities; it means celebrating George Washington's birthday and also Día De Los Muertos.
Torres and his parents walk along the Rio Grande.
Luis Torres / Earthjustice
This is the border to me. This is what I call home.
I lived in Laredo for 18 years before I left for Washington, D.C., to study and work on Capitol Hill to make a difference for the people of my beloved border community. I quickly learned that many on the Hill don't know the border like we do. They don't see the border like we see it. They don't see Mexican people, and Mexican-Americans, tribes, and other communities the way we see them.
Politicians talk about an unsafe border: rampant with drugs, gangs, violence, and lawlessness. They talk about rapists, drug dealers, and criminals, midnight crossings, invasions, cartel shootouts, and anarchy. This is the insecurity narrative that radical right-wing politicians use to push their border agendas. But it isn't the border I know. It's not the border that raised me; where my family and friends live today.
Soon Congress will vote on whether or not to fund President Trump's border wall, and if so, how much money to give to it. But the fight over wall funding is about more than just the wall: It's about the fight to define the border, the people who live in border communities, and the lives of those who will come after them.
Members of Congress need to visit the border. They need to be vocal against the wall when they speak on the floors of the House and Senate. They need to fight every way they can against giving even a dime to the construction of this monument to division and hate. There are real human consequences to so-called "compromise" here — this isn't just a matter of dollars and cents. This is a fight for human lives.
This fight won't be easy. We certainly won't win if we talk about the border wall through a single-issue lens. If we talk about it comprehensively, we may have a chance. We need border residents; immigration and Latino advocates; environmental, wildlife, and conservation advocates; faith, indigenous, and community leaders — all of us — on the same page. Every one of us needs to remind Congress that:
Walls are lethal to humans and wildlife.
Walls cause flooding. They destroy nature, habitats, and resources.
Walls require the confiscation of private property. Walls cost billions to construct and billions to maintain.
Walls interfere with native sovereignty. Walls betray our values.
And walls have been totally, completely, and unequivocally rejected by the American public.
The author as a child at a party in Laredo.
Luis Torres / Earthjustice
The louder we speak up, the harder it is for our communities to be divided, pitted against each other, or used as bargaining chips in negotiations. And even if we fall short now, a new Congress is coming. Latinos have always struggled and fought to get Washington to take us seriously and stop treating us as second-class citizens — but we'll have a fighting chance in the new year.
But we need to make Washington hear us. We'll fight this wall now, we'll fight it next year, we'll fight it as long as Trump is in office, and we won't stop fighting, no matter what.
We won't quit until this wall is what and where it belongs — debris in the junkyard of history's worst ideas.
This post was originally published on Dec. 14, 2018. It has been updated to reflect the news of Earthjustice's lawsuit.
Luis A. Torres, MA.T. is a Senior Legislative Representative in the Policy & Legislation department at Earthjustice.
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The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
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