MISSION, Texas (Border Report) — A member of the National Guard slammed a truck into a rusted gate that leads to the border levee on National Butterfly Center property on Wednesday morning south of Mission, Texas.
U.S. Border Patrol Special Operations Supervisor Christian Alvarez told Border Report that Border Patrol agents were not involved in the single-vehicle crash, which involved a guardsman deployed to the border as part of Operation Lone Star.
“That had nothing to do with Border Patrol. That soldier is out here for Operation Lone Star,” Alvarez said.
National Guard officials, in an email to Border Report late Wednesday said two guardsmen were involved in the single-vehicle accident that occurred “before sunrise.”
“The service members were traveling on a road that travels up a levee – this is federal property,” the official wrote.
However, National Butterfly Center Executive Director Marianna Treviño-Wright told Border Report the accident happened on their property. It was at a gate that the Border Patrol installed with permission from the Butterfly Center, and which Treviño-Wright says the National Guard does not have keys to access.
“This is our land. This land belongs to the National Butterfly Center,” Treviño-Wright said. “That is why we have that ‘No Trespassing’ sign right there in front of the gate, which we had to give Border Patrol written permission to install on our property.”
Members of the Texas National Guard were at the scene of the crash but would not discuss what happened. U.S. Border Patrol agents also came to examine the scene and said that the National Guard and Texas Military Department were involved.
Border Report arrived at the gate about two hours after employees from the National Butterfly Center said they came upon the stuck truck at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, on property they say the National Guard has no authority to access.
Thousands of National Guard troops are positioned throughout South Texas as part of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s controversial Operation Lone Star, which he launched in March to help guard the Texas-Mexico border.
Abbott says there is “a crisis” on the Southwest border and he blames the Biden administration for failing to “secure the border” and, instead, “inviting illegal immigration.”
The National Guard and Texas Military Department are stationed on the border in tandem with other border law enforcement, like Texas state troopers and U.S. Border Patrol agents.
They frequently guard from the levee in a nearby area where construction currently is being done to connect border infrastructure to a border wall built through a section of a federal wildlife corridor.
The gate has a barrel lock system, and only the National Butterfly Center, Border Patrol, the local irrigation district, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, and the International Boundary and Water Commission have keys to open it.
Treviño-Wright said the National Guard does not have access to the gate and should not have been there.
“They have no authority to be on our land,” Treviño-Wright said. “They should not be using this gate.”
Treviño-Wright said National Guard has been stationed atop the levee on federal property owned by U.S. Fish & Wildlife. But the crash occurred on a dirt road leading to the levee at the bottom of the levee.
Border Patrol agents examined the gate after the truck was towed away.
Just feet away, a contingency of National Guard troops watched the crash scene from beside a military vehicle and prevented cars or pedestrians from accessing the border levee where a half-mile to the west border barrier and levee construction is underway.
“We do not know whether the feds have given them permission to be there or not. My responsibility is to keep trespassers off of our land,” she said.
They have no authority to be on our land.”Marianna Treviño-Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center
Several patrons to the Butterfly Center with binoculars and other butterfly and bird-spying equipment walked over the levee beside the commotion on Wednesday morning to access the center’s riverfront area. The 100-acre nature preserve includes direct river access and overlooks the shores of Mexico.
But Treviño-Wright has long complained that the presence of the National Guard and other officers create a “militarization of the border” that is unnecessary and can deter environmentalists.
“Our visitors enjoy going to the wetland and seeing more of the wildlife species that may be found in the wildscape, like the wild turkey, the javelina, the bobcat,” she said. “Naturalists and even folks who specialize in dragonflies come here for that.”
Sue Finch of Columbus, Ohio, was visiting on Wednesday, her second trip since 2019 with a group of other naturalists. She said they walked the boardwalk and saw a white heron and saw the river. “It was nice to go out on the dock and see how the river traverses the property.”
This was the first time they went all the way to the Rio Grande. And when asked if the National Guard presence took away from their visit she said: “I don’t mind them being here but having gates closed and not being able to get down there as easily affects the trip.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.