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Trump’s national emergency creates another border crisis

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There’s a corridor within the Lower Rio Grande Valley through which rare and endangered species of wildlife move freely from Mexico into a national refuge and across the rest of South Texas. It’s an oasis for rare birds and butterflies, ocelots, and other wildlife.

It’s also where, this week, construction crews began tearing down forest, between the National Butterfly Center and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, to build part of President Trump’s border wall on a levee high above the river. In the weeks ahead, more than 350 acres will be destroyed to clear a path for 33 miles of concrete and steel wall.

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It’s a scenario likely to repeat itself over the next few years.

On Friday, Trump signed a sweeping compromise measure to keep the government funded, but he also declared a national emergency on the U.S. southern border, claiming “an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs.”

The action allows him to commandeer more than $6 billion from the military and other sources—money Congress has refused to give him—to build the border wall that he promised his supporters Mexico would pay for.

“Today they began tearing down the forest in the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge, four miles from my house. I have no words.”

That was a social media post on Thursday by Tiffany Kersten, a biologist and board member of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club.

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“We don’t have a border crisis; we don’t have a security crisis.” The clearing, she said later in an interview, is taking place near where she lives in Mission, Texas, outside McAllen, which has been ranked by SmartAsset as one of the safest cities in the U.S. “What we have is a crisis of misinformation,” Kersten said. “Illegal immigration has not been this low in 46 years. I don’t know at what point in this country we determined that facts no longer matter.” According to the U.S. Border Patrol, there were 303,916 apprehensions of people crossing the border illegally in 2017, the lowest number since 1971.

The real emergency, immigrant advocates say, is the plight of migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach the U.S. and the separation of immigrant families there. They say the president’s action makes it more imperative state and local governments work to protect immigrant communities.

A chorus of lawmakers from both major parties as well as legal experts are also upset, saying Trump’s emergency declaration usurps the “power of the purse” the Constitution grants to Congress.

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Many commentators noted that Trump undercut his own argument by saying he didn’t need to declare an emergency but was doing so to speed up construction. In a Tweet, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked how Trump’s action can be a legitimate national emergency if he himself admits he didn’t need to do it. She and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in a joint statement, called the move a clear power grab and urged Republican colleagues to “honor the Constitution by defending our system of checks and balances.”

The president’s “unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist does great violence to our Constitution and makes America less safe, stealing from urgently needed defense funds for the security or our military and our nation,” Pelosi wrote on Twitter.

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A recent Politico/Morning Consult poll showed voters split over whether the U.S. should build a wall along the southern border: 47 percent support it, and 47 percent oppose it.

This week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom pulled most of the 360 National Guard troops from the Mexican border, leaving a few to combat transnational drug smuggling. In his State of the State address on Feb. 12, Newsom called the border emergency a “manufactured crisis” and said his state will “not be part of this political theater.”

His action followed that of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who ordered the withdrawal of the majority of National Guard troops deployed at her state’s Southern border. In fact, at least five states, including two led by Republicans, rejected the president’s call to send troops, with Maryland’s Gov. Larry Hogan saying his state wanted nothing to do with the Trump administration policy of separating families at the border.

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In the Lower Rio Grande Valley, construction equipment started showing up earlier this month, sparking outrage among community members and activists.

In addition to the refuge, land targeted for wall construction also includes the National Butterfly Center, a 100-acre nature preserve, as well as the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park—land that the federal government doesn’t own. On Thursday, a judge dismissed a lawsuit by the butterfly sanctuary to block the wall construction. But it and other landmarks may have earned a reprieve in the bill Trump signed to avoid another shutdown.

Meanwhile, a wall through Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, the headquarters of the World Birding Center, would divide the visitor center from the rest of the property, including the trails, according to an article in the Sierra Club magazine.

Activists have planned a protest and march for noon Saturday at the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.

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Lornet Turnbull wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Lornet is an editor for YES!, a Seattle-based freelance writer, and a regional anchor for the Washington Post. Reach her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @TurnbullL


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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2020 Election

Trump and the GOP have become the party of the dead

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There are few morbid topics subject to greater speculation than the religious loyalty of President Donald Trump's "base." Why an alarmingly large amount of Americans refuse even to entertain any criticism of Trump deserves scrutiny from political scientists, psychologists and perhaps horror novelists working in the school of Edgar Allan Poe.

This article first appeared in Salon.

What is abundantly clear is that no matter who votes for Trump, he and the Republican Party on the national level have no interest in governing on the behalf of living human beings — with the exception of ensuring that a tiny minority of billionaires and multimillionaires enlarge their investment portfolios. Trump evinces no concern for Americans dying of the coronavirus, racist violence or any other malady or injustice. He demonstrates no regard for health care professionals courageously trying to save their patients from dying, and appears cruelly indifferent to the struggles of millions of workers whose livelihoods have been destroyed by COVID-19. Needless to say, Trump also shows contempt for Black Lives Matter, immigrants and anyone who opposes his re-election, which at this moment (and throughout his presidency) is more than half of the American public.

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As coronavirus seizes the state, Florida hospitals are in panic mode

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As Florida experiences a surge in coronavirus cases, the residents of the state are facing obstacles like overwhelmed hospitals and a looming shortage in beds.

This article first appeared in Salon.

There are 47,663 hospital beds in the state right now with 11,782 available (meaning a remaining capacity of 19.82 percent) and a total staffed bed capacity of 59,445, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration's Hospital Bed Capacity Dashboard. The state Department of Health also reported on Friday that, out of 95,300 individuals who received coronavirus test results over the course of the previous day, 11,433 tested positive for COVID-19 (all but 90 of whom were Florida residents), meaning that more than 12 percent of the new cases had positive test results. The state also reported 93 new deaths due to COVID-19. (Salon reached out to the Florida Department of Health for comment on this story.)

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2020 Election

The GOP is a suicide cult

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Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.

Back in March, we argued that Donald Trump had become the charismatic leader of the dumbest suicide cult ever. There were fewer than 500 confirmed cases of Covid-19 at the time, but it wasn't difficult to see the trajectory we were on at even that early date. At the time, we were commenting on the President's* repeated claims that the whole thing was a big hoax and polls showing that Democrats were twice as likely as Republicans to say they were taking steps to avoid becoming infected.

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