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Trump’s ‘Emergency’ Border Wall Threatens My Home

Insights + Opinion
Trump’s ‘Emergency’ Border Wall Threatens My Home
Torres and his parents walk along the Rio Grande. Luis Torres / Earthjustice

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.

Sylvia Ramirez

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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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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