U.S.-Mexico Border Wall

The Palmito Ranch Battlefield’s location along the U.S.-Mexico international border presents another unique set of challenges.

As previously mentioned, moving people and goods across the Rio Grande was a prominent activity during the Civil War, and indeed throughout all periods of U.S. history. This has not changed and in recent years border security has become one of the most pressing issues in national discourse.

Informal and underground illegal activities are now common along the southern Texas border, perpetuated in general by a large gap in wages between Mexico and the United States (Dávila and others, 2002). Ongoing illegal activities, recently ranked by their potential to generate income, were drug dealing, human trafficking, dog and cock fighting, prostitution, gambling, and stealing and selling pirated or counterfeited goods and services (Richardson and Pisani, 2012). The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) routinely intercepts drugs, primarily marijuana and cocaine but also heroine and methamphetamines, at international bridges and on United States land adjacent to the Rio Grande… Presence of border patrol in the LRGV increased 633 percent from 418 agents in 1992 to 3,064 agents in 2014 (U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 2015). More border patrol agents mean more motor vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, horse patrols, helicopters, boats, camera towers, lights, and other forms of surveillance tools. There is ever-growing pressure to accommodate these agents and their equipment on tracts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR, where isolated remnants of native vegetation provide cover for illegal activities. (Leslie, 2016, pp. 64-65)

Rendering of proposed wall construction near the Rio Grande along the U.S.-Mexico border. Source: U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
Rendering of proposed wall construction near the Rio Grande along the U.S.-Mexico border. Source: U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

Border fences along the U.S.-Mexico border began to be constructed in the mid-2000s as a method to increase security and deter illegal crossings. Border fences types have included concrete walls, 6-m-high (20-ft high) steel fences, and earthen levees. In Cameron County alone there are 35 miles of border fence existing with an additional 19 miles of levee wall proposed (Reagan, CBP quietly announces plans for 19 miles of border wall in Cameron County, 2019). The fence construction and associated surveillance necessitates access to it, which has led to a substantial increase in the numbers of roads constructed. Many of these roads traverse important tracts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR, with some located directly along the Rio Grande. A considerable amount of brushland habitat was permanently lost during fence and road construction. In addition, the Brownsville Herald has reported that the federal government has already filed several lawsuits in Brownsville federal court against private property owners seeking access to their land (Reagan, 2019). Furthermore, new fences/walls along the United States-Mexico border present a substantial barrier to wildlife movements and will result in fragmented habitat. These factors could have devastating effects on numerous plant, animal, and invertebrate species, particularly those that are already endangered or in decline.

The border fence’s presence will have a profound impact on adjacent and surrounding areas. A border wall or fence in the vicinity of the Palmito Ranch Battlefield poses a significant threat to its integrity, history, viewshed, “feel,” and setting with the potential to completely block views of the Rio Grande.