Legislation seeks to protect landowners from Trump's border wall

October 4, 2017
In The News

U.S. Reps. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, and Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona, introduced legislation Wednesday that would prevent the government from acquiring land to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

The Protecting the Property Rights of Landowners Act would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to prohibit the government’s use of eminent domain to obtain private property for President Donald Trump’s border wall.

 

“We do not need a 2,000-mile, 30-foot-high wall separating us from Mexico,” O’Rourke said. “If the Trump administration with the aid of this Congress moves forward with the construction of a wall … much of it will be built on U.S. property owners’ land.”

The proposed amendment comes as the House Homeland Security Committee passed the Border Security for America, a $10 billion bill crafted by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, to pay for levee wall and fencing, technology and a surge in agents on the border.

The border security bill drew praise from Sen. John Cornyn, while Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, called the proposal “an offensive joke.”

The committee also adopted an amendment by Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, specifying that a wall would not be built where natural terrain or remoteness would make a border wall ineffective.

Meanwhile, nearly every member of Congress whose district includes part of the border joined O’Rourke and Gallego on their amendment proposal.

With construction on eight border wall prototypes under way, and Trump poised to handpick the winning design, the Senate has yet to pass a $1.6 billion border wall request that would pay for dozens of miles of new wall, including 32 miles of fencing in Starr County and 28 miles of levee wall in neighboring Hidalgo County.

The Army Corps of Engineers in July began preparations for construction of a wall in several places along the border including El Paso. One section of Trump’s “big, beautiful wall” would cut through the National Butterfly Center, marooning a 70-acre tract south of the barrier.

Mariana Treviño-Wright, the executive director of the butterfly center, said it will file a notice of intent to sue the government, accusing the government of attempting to take sanctuary property without due process.

The Homeland Security Department “has asserted its right to access, alter and virtually occupy our private property,” Treviño-Wright said. “For that reason, we feel we must seek due process through the courts to protect our private property rights.”

 

The president also requested funding to double the number of Justice Department attorneys who work in land acquisition.

Some critics have pointed to what they saw as government transgressions the last time it endeavored to build hundreds of miles of wall along the Southwestern border. More than 300 eminent domain lawsuits were filed, and nearly a decade later, 91 cases remain unresolved.

“In our experience what we saw in the border fence wave of condemnations was a total abuse of eminent domain power,”said Efren Olivares, racial and economic justice director at the Texas Civil Rights Project. “Instead of giving landowners individualized assessment of how much their land was worth … they got very low amounts across the board.”

Many landowners were offered as little as $100 for swaths of property where the bollard fencing eventually was built in South Texas. Most of the land on the border that is privately owned is in Texas.

Additionally, some studies have found Trump’s wall may end up costing nearer $70 billion, more than three times as much as the Homeland Security Department’s estimate of $21.6 billion, which some have criticized at a time when fewer immigrants are crossing the border illegally.

“Donald Trump’s wall is a pointless, stupid, divisive, and outrageously expensive boondoggle,” Gallego said. “It’s time for Congress to step up and protect border communities.”