BROWNSVILLE — U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela is vowing to oppose bills on the House floor that attach what he calls “poison pills” like border wall funding.

Vela, D-Brownsville, has joined his Border Caucus Co-Chair Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, in penning a letter in opposition to the 2018 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill.

The letter is addressed to Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen of the Committee on Appropriations, Chairman John Carter of the Subcommittee on Homeland Security, ranking member of the Committee on Appropriations Nita Lowey, and Lucille Roybal-Allard, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

“Making American taxpayers pay $1.6 billion for a portion of the wall is asinine. I understand Republicans want to give President Trump one win due to his failed six months in office, but this is just irresponsible,” Vela said in a press release.

“The border wall will rip our community apart, stomp on landowners’ rights, and on the wildlife of the Rio Grande Valley, including the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.”

The wall, they wrote, will “serve as an un-American symbol of hatred toward immigrants who contribute so much to our country.”

Co-signers of the letter include U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, Ruben Gallegos, D-Arizona, Gene Green, D-Texas, Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, Juan Vargas, D-California, Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, Henry Cuellar, D-Texas and Marck Veasey, D- Texas.

Hundreds of private landowners and municipalities have had their property condemned, and lawsuits are still pending, Vela said.

“I have been in contact with Efren Olivares. That’s his expertise, and he represents many of those landowners. Some of these landowners at a point go ahead and sell the land to get it over with, but others are still resisting,” Vela said.

Olivares is a lawyer with the Texas Civil Rights Project. He is handling 15 cases dealing with eminent domain in the Rio Grande Valley.

From the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area to the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, protected lands have been torn apart by border barriers. The continuation of a border wall will push endangered ocelots, jaguars, Sonoran pronghorns, and other species closer to extinction, and will harm eco-tourism, the letter states.

The legislators note an instance in Nogales, where border walls contributed to flooding that resulted in millions of dollars of damage and two people drowning. More border wall construction in the Rio Grande flood plain poses a serious flooding risk, they write.

“Last week, the Department of Homeland Security got caught doing some geotechnical testing at the Santa Ana Refuge. Congress voted on a budget three months ago — I voted against it — that funded 292 miles of replacement fencing in Arizona and California, and 40 miles of planning and construction that would allow them to close the gates, 35 in the Valley,” Vela said.

The Sierra Club, Vela said, was concerned about the geotechnical testing. Members initially thought Homeland Security was moving forward with wall construction at the refuge.

Vela has an idea as to what that may have been about.

“The language is kind of vague in the last budget. When it says planning, they used some of that money, I think, to pay for that geotechnical testing in preparation for building a wall,” Vela said. “(I think) they’re currently banking on the fact that Congress will give them more money in the 2018 budget.”

The Southern border “is not a war zone.” Communities along the border are some of the safest in the U.S., the letter states.

Border security is important, but there are other ways to approach the issue. One such option is a virtual wall. It is unclear how much it would cost, but the cost does not matter, Vela said.

“Today, we have telescopic devices that can see butterflies two miles away. I just think we ought to be using people and technology rather than walls,” Vela said. “We know the wall’s not effective. Build it 12 feet high and they’ll build ladders 14 feet high.”

Vela said he discusses this alternative with other legislators regularly.

Vela believes members of the Border Caucus and Hispanic Caucus will fight the bill. The entire Democratic Caucus might. However, the party is in the minority, and it is likely some measure will come out of the U.S. House of Representatives next week.

“We’re so deep in the minority that we get rolled over,” Vela said.

Vela does not believe the U.S. Senate will consider the funding until the fall.

If the bill does pass, there is not much that can be done to stop it. Even so, Vela will keep fighting.

“We keep fighting to make sure in the future no further funding is spent, but at the end of the day, it’s a matter of taking over one of the branches of government so in the future it won’t happen,” Vela said.