Here We Go Again…

This Friday, July 23, Representative Bruce Westerman is bringing a delegation of Republicans to the Rio Grande Valley. As minority Ranking Member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, he’s coming to advance the eco-fascist narrative that immigrants — not bulldozers — are destroying the environment.

As of last Friday, it appears he will have three committee members in tow, along with staff and media. Their agenda begins at 8:30 AM at a world-renowned National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo, where Border Patrol has an operational outpost. This 2,000-acre gem in the crown of the United States’ public lands receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, and those visitors helped move Congress to spare the refuge from Trump’s border wall through their activism from 2017–2019. However, Rep. Westerman & Co. are not coming to explore the diverse, riverine habitat or tick some 500 species of birds off their life lists, they are coming to document the harm allegedly done to pristine natural areas by illegal immigration — human traffic — and the trash that gets left behind.

After they photograph the garbage Border Patrol will, no doubt, distribute along the Rio Grande for their visit, these members of Congress and media will “participate in immigrant apprehensions” with the agency from 9:30–10:30 AM; then, tour the (presumably McAllen) Border Patrol operations and processing center. At night, they will experience “cartel activity” à la Ted Cruz, by hiding in the Carrizo Cane along the riverbank with Border Patrol.

Lest you imagine for a second that Westerman actually cares about the environment, during Trump’s presidency he bemoaned the environmental regulations, like the Endangered Species Act and Solid Waste Disposal Act, that hinder or block Border Patrol’s access to remote areas and protected lands, both public and private. He argued Border Patrol needed more authority to make decisions to violate or waive those laws on the ground — the sort of “authority” that led us to find contractors with chainsaws and brush hogs at the National Butterfly Center on July 20, 2017, with no right of entry or landowner permission to raze sensitive habitat in the Lower Rio Grande Valley Wildlife Conservation Corridor.

Westerman also promoted the Arizona militia’s myth that illegal immigration was responsible for more than 460,000 lbs of trash from 2007–2018 along the Arizona-Mexico border; this includes trucks, cars and SUVs, weighing up to 6,000 lbs each. You do the math: Divide 460,000 by eleven years and you get 42,000 lbs of trash per year (rounded up). If this total tonnage includes even one wrecked, abandoned or confiscated 4,000 lb vehicle per month, that’s 48,000 lbs of “trash” per year right there…

In my own conversations with U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials and the local board president of the Friends of the National Wildlife Refuge, I have learned “immigrant trash” is not an issue, nor is foot traffic trampling vegetation. Rather, trash left behind by Border Patrol agents (much of which we have documented) and the damage done by their service vehicles are much more significant. Whether it’s discarded chewing tobacco and Monster drink cans, lithium batteries from their agency-issue flashlights and rubber gloves, or smashed cell phones, clothing and personal papers stripped from migrants and tossed in the brush, Border Patrol is largely responsible for the harmful impacts and litter we see.

As the clock winds down for Congress to approve a new budget — and as Texas Democrats take Washington, D.C. in defense of voter rights — it’s important for the public to understand the “news” that will make the national outlets next Friday through Sunday is not spontaneous, but manufactured. Stories like this do not break by chance; rather, they are PRODUCED by the powers that be. In fact, Rep. Westerman and staff, in partnership with Border Patrol and their for-profit business partners (who are also donors to candidates and elected officials,) are working hard to fabricate these photo ops; so, the compelling images collected during this junket may be used to craft stories that support a particular message and advance a specific agenda related to anti-immigrant policies.

Westerman’s stated goal is “Putting Conservatives back into Conservation”; and he will do that with the state-sponsored resources of the Department of Homeland Security Customs & Border Protection, whose power and control depend upon demonizing immigrants and using the borderlands as their piñata, in perpetuity.

Friday’s visit to the Rio Grande Valley will also be used to bolster the GOP’s false claims of voter fraud and the partisan propaganda that Democrats want “open borders” and illegal immigration because these are their voters.

Mark my words, unless Westerman & Co. change or cancel their scheduled trip, the weekend talk shows will feature political commentators pontificating on all of these things, effectively amplifying this alt-right dog whistle and providing more oxygen to yet another overt misinformation campaign because this is media, today.

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