McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A South Texas congressman announced he added exemptions to several border-wall spending bills, the same day the Trump administration waived dozens of environmental laws to build the wall faster in Starr County, Texas.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, the only Democrat from the Southwest border who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said Friday he has negotiated bipartisan support from committee members to add language to Fiscal 2021 spending bills that would add four major exemptions to construction of the border wall in the Southwest:

  • Within any site on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Within the Sacred Heart Children’s Home in Laredo, Texas.
  • Within the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Within one mile of historic sites along the Los Caminos de Rio Heritage Corridor in South Texas.

The committee began meeting after the Fourth of July holiday and Cuellar has been rallying lawmakers from various subcommittees, he told media during a conference call.

These exemptions, Cuellar said, are in addition to existing congressional regulations set in previous budget spending bills that forbid border-wall construction in the Santa Ana National Wildlife RefugeBentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park; La Lomita Chapel; the National Butterfly Center; and the SpaceX Texas Launch Facility. Funds also may not be used for border wall construction on “historic cemeteries,” a provision that Cuellar had added during the Fiscal 2020 negotiations.

“The Trump administration’s ineffective border wall is detrimental to our history, our cultural and our environmentally sensitive areas. These sites are not just important to our livelihoods, they symbolize our community’s cultural and religious identity,” Cuellar said about votes taken this past week on five different border wall-related spending measures.

He said one of the provisions — exempting the Sacred Heart Children’s Home orphanage in Laredo, which sits on 70 acres on the Rio Grande — had the endorsement of Republicans and passed via a “manager’s amendment,” which was added after the original bill had been written and agreed to by both parties, which Cuellar said is fairly unusual. “I even got the Republicans to work with me to add the Sacred Heart Children’s Home,” he said.

Additionally, Cuellar said the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee of which he’s vice chairman, has voted to add no federal funds for border-wall construction in the Fiscal 2021 budget. “Why in the world take money for a wall?” Cuellar told the full committee on July 9.

The full Fiscal 2021 budget still must pass the full House, the U.S. Senate, and must be signed by the president, which many lawmakers concede they don’t expect will pass as written as long as Donald Trump is president and Republicans control the Senate.

The Trump administration has been pushing hard to build new border wall with a goal of 500 new miles built by the November election.

On Friday, the Administration announced that dozens of environmental protection laws would be waived to expedite border wall construction in parts of Starr County deemed “high illegal entry project areas,” according to the Federal Register.

This includes construction that will cut through the Salineño Preserve, a world-renowned exotic birding center about 9 miles outside the city of Roma.

Birding season winds down with fear it won’t return if border wall is built in South Texas

Norma Herrera, of the nonprofit Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, said waiving these regulations to speed construction during a coronavirus epidemic that is sweeping South Texas is ill-timed.

“We are in the middle of an unprecedented health emergency in the Rio Grande Valley. While we lose hundreds of lives in our region to COVID-19, the Trump administration continues to attack communities in the RGV for his wall. Trump wastes billions of dollars on his pet political project instead of investing in the direly needed life-saving resources we need to survive this pandemic. To further rub salt in our wounds, this latest waiver of crucial protections will further threaten our families, our constitutional rights, our natural spaces, and the Rio Grande River, the lifeblood of our community,” Herrera said.

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