EXCLUSIVE: A group of GOP House members are urging President Trump not to give in to calls from environmental activists to make gaps in sections of newly built wall at the southern border in order to allow wildlife to pass through.
“We encourage you to oppose demands to create openings in the border wall or breaches to the wall’s security,” the letter by Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., Jim Banks, R-Ind., Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, Tom Tiffany, R-Wis., and Brian Babin, R-Texas, says.
The letter, obtained by Fox News, cites an Arizona Daily Star report that activists are calling on the administration to cut “wildlife passthroughs” in sections of the wall to allow room for creatures such as jaguars. Currently, the Star reports, the bollards in the wall are spaced about four inches apart, which is too close for large animals to get through, putting them at risk.
Additionally, the letter points to statements by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that they, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working to “identify strategies to accommodate larger mammals."
“We were surprised to hear these demands, which will lower the wall’s effectiveness,” the Republican letter says.
The letter argues that there have been already been a number of permanent openings in the walls, including floodgates to prevent flooding that remain open for months, and those are used not just by jaguars.
“Predictably, U.S. Border Patrol agents are not the only individuals aware of these openings – drug cartels, human traffickers, and any other individual looking for a way through the barrier use them as an access point,” the letter says.
The Republican members warn that an opening to allow a large animal through would be large enough too for an illegal immigrant or a drug smuggler to fit through and “will undoubtedly be used by cartels to smuggle drugs and humans into the United States, lowering the effectiveness of the new wall and putting lives at risk.”
Trump recently toured new construction of the controversial project in Arizona, marking more than 200 miles of wall built since 2017, as he looks to show supporters that he delivered on his 2016 campaign promise. Biggs told Fox News on Thursday that the more than 200 miles built was a "remarkable achievement."
"Unfortunately, there are many in Congress and around the nation who seek to thwart [Trump's] efforts to protect Americans and to enforce the rule of law," he said. "That’s why I lead congressional delegations to the border to hear from the agents and ranchers who know what is being done correctly or what Congress and the administration can do differently."
But the wall effort was recently dealt a blow when a federal appeals court ruled the administration acted unlawfully when it transferred $2.5 billion in military construction projects to build parts of the wall.
That ruling, by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the lawsuit, filed by a coalition of states and environmental groups, that claims the wall would also produce environmental risks to wildlife.