MISSION, Texas (Border Report) — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is planning to build a “virtual wall,” rather than a metal wall, at three locations in South Texas that Congress has exempted from border wall construction, a congressman said Wednesday.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, vice-chairman of the House Appropriations Border Security Subcommittee said that DHS officials late Tuesday notified him that they plan to put in Linear Ground Detection System technology at the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, La Lomita Chapel and the National Butterfly Center, all located in Mission, Texas.

“Even though I was able to add language to protect any fencing in those areas … Homeland has notified me that they are going to start deploying technology, Linear Ground Detection System, within the Rio Grande Valley,” Cuellar said during a call with media Wednesday. “That is a virtual wall instead of a levee wall or a 30-foot bollard.”

Exactly what that technology entails, Cuellar said he did not know. He also did not know the estimated cost that the Trump Administration would be requesting from his committee for funding.

Entrance to the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.
(Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

But Scott Nicol, former chairman of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Campaign, said he worries that aside from expected underground sensors, this technology also could include floodlights and infrared cameras, which he says would hurt wildlife in these protected areas, especially nocturnal species like bats.

“It is still going against what Congress told CBP it would not allow building in these areas,” Nicol said. “I would hope that Cuellar will stand up against this.”

Nicol pointed out that virtual wall systems have been tried before at large costs and he said “none of that stuff is effective.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has tested this type of technology in Tucson, Arizona, the agency reports.

In July, CBP put out a call for companies that supply Linear Ground Detection System technology. The request called for technology that would work in all climates and terrains and be able to monitor “blind spots created by man-made and natural obstacles.”

CBP requested the technology also “be able to discriminate between human, animal, and vehicle targets to identify between humans and animals.”

“I know as they put this technology in there will be questions as to how they do it in a sensitive way,” Cuellar said. And he added that DHS still will need to get permission from the National Butterfly Center, the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, which runs La Lomita Chapel, and the State of Texas, which operates the park. “They’ll need to get the real estate,” he said.

La Lomita chapel in Mission, Texas, on January 15, 2019. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)
Congress voted to exempt the border wall from being on lands owned by the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, as seen on July 18, 2019. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge apparently is not part of the “virtual wall” plan, at least not just yet, Cuellar said.

Jeff Glassberg, president of the North American Butterfly Association, which operates the National Butterfly Center, said he was unaware of DHS’s plans to put up a virtual wall on their riverfront property and he said if that is the agency’s intent, then it is ill-timed during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s pretty typical of the evil people running this country to be doing this kind of thing while there are huge numbers of American people dying from coronavirus,” Glassberg said. “It’s really incredible. They can’t bother to test Americans but they’ll put money into a virtual wall.”

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

Visit the BorderReport.com homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.