The center’s director alleges in court documents that Customs and Border Protection and other law enforcement agencies have been driving heavy machinery through the center’s property without permission or notice.
The director, Marianna Trevino Wright, also alleges that the number of law enforcement officers on the butterfly center’s land has dramatically increased since early February, something that is “intimidating” and “restrains” the movement of guests and staff.
“Border wall construction is beginning on land adjacent to NABA’s property and Defendants’ constitutional violations are escalating,” the center’s lawyers wrote in court papers, using the acronym for the North American Butterfly Association. “Immediate injunctive relief is necessary to prevent irreparable harm.”
The motion is another salvo in a battle between the federal government and the butterfly center, a 100-acre tract that houses more than 200 species of butterflies and native plants, trees and grasses.
The butterfly center first filed suit against the government in December 2017, alleging that federal officials decided to build a border wall on the property without complying with existing law. The government petitioned in May to have the case dismissed, but no decision has been made.
The lawsuit comes as litigation and tensions are escalating in the Rio Grande Valley as the government has said it plans to begin construction of 33 miles of border wall there. Construction is slated to begin shortly on a levee that cuts through two wildlife refuges.
A federal judge ruled last week that the government can begin surveying land that houses a small Texas church and is owned by the local Roman Catholic Diocese. The diocese has said it will continue to fight any move to take land for a border wall, claiming that it violates the right to free expression of religion.
Dozens of landowners received surprise letters from the federal government in recent months requesting access to their properties for soil tests and other examination. Lawyers said it is the first part of a two-step process the government uses to obtain land by eminent domain.
Some landowners have declined to let the government enter their properties. Some landowners have said they received a second letter last month indicating that the government plans to demand access to their properties for up to a year.
Representatives for the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection did not respond to requests for comment.
A lawyer for the butterfly center said the government has surveyed the land and appears to want to build the wall south of a levee that cuts the butterfly center in two.
The lawyer, Harry Zirlin, said in an interview that the incidents Wright has outlined in court papers — such as the government’s removing locks and gates from the property and driving trucks and heavy equipment through it — show that the courts need to take action now because efforts to build the wall are moving quickly.
“The client certainly feels like they can no longer sit back and wait for the government to abide by the law and take the appropriate steps to acquire legal title to the property, which they do not have now,” Zirlin said.
The motion alleges that the government is infringing on the center’s Fourth Amendment and Fifth Amendment rights — constitutional guarantees against unreasonable searches and seizure, and seizure of property without due process of law.
“By summarily depriving NABA of its property without due process of law, Defendants defy centuries of democratic values that shield Americans from government action depriving individuals of their rightful property without notice and an opportunity to be heard,” the lawyers argue in court papers.