- REUTERS/Carlos Barria
The Trump administration could end up seizing land from private-property owners in Texas for its US-Mexico border wall.Lawsuits in these matters could cost millions and take years to settle. The Trump administration could face backlash in Texas, a state he won in the 2016 election, if it moves to seize private land for border-wall construction.
President Donald Trump’s proposed wall on the US’s border with Mexico could face legal challenges from private-property owners in Texas, USA Today reported in a broad investigation of the border-wall proposal.
Over half of the 2,000-mile border between Mexico and the US sits in Texas, where hundreds of miles of land remains unrestricted by a wall, according to USA Today’s investigation. This area includes nearly 5,000 parcels of property in a wall’s likely path – which could prompt court battles between the US government and private landowners.
Since a 2006 law paved the way for barriers along the southern border, hundreds of land-seizure cases have been brought against landowners who hold property in border territory. As of this year, at least 85 cases were still pending, USA Today reported.
With a process known as eminent domain, the federal government may seize private property for “public purposes” as long as “just compensation” is provided to the owners. In what a ThinkProgress report published in August said was a draft of a Department of Homeland Security response to a lawmaker’s line of questioning, the department said it was “always DHS’ preference to acquire private property through voluntary sale” but that on some occasions “condemnation is the only method for acquiring the needed property.”
- REUTERS/Tomas Bravo
The condemnation process is a procedure by which the government and landowners attempt to settle a dispute over the value of property being sought by the government.
“Here we are in a decade and the judge still has eminent-domain cases pending in his court,” Terence Garrett, the chair of the public affairs and security studies department at the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley, told USA Today. “It’s really a thicket, if you will, of all kinds of legal problems. We are looking at years – decades – of court cases.”
Garrett estimated that only 20% of landowners would accept the federal government’s offer to use their land.
Texas is not the only potential battlefield in the border-wall proposal. On Wednesday, Reuters reported that California filed a lawsuit on Wednesday accusing the wall of violating federal environmental standards and constitutional provisions on the separation of powers and states’ rights.
Though the Trump administration is likely to face additional challenges on the matter, Trump has insisted he intends to follow through with the wall. Four construction companies have been selected to produce mock-ups of the border wall, NPR reported last month.
Still, the specific challenges in Texas could prove to be a minefield for the president.
- David McNew Getty Images
Trump won deep red Texas in the 2016 presidential election and has since maintained broad support within his base in the state, even as he slumped to historic lows in national polls in the first months of his administration.
Trump recently faced a major test in Texas after parts of the state were destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. He swiftly signed legislation earlier this month that would deliver about $7.4 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, another $7.4 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and $450 million for the Small Business Administration.
At the same time, the Trump administration said it would maintain restrictions that make it more difficult for unauthorized immigrants to find jobs during the Harvey recovery, Reuters reported on September 1. While that move was seen as unsurprising for a president who campaigned on tougher immigration laws, it could slow the recovery effort.
Congressional leaders remain divided on the border-wall proposal, with Democrats voicing strong opposition. That was seen most recently in a bipartisan agreement touted by Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, in which they said they worked out a deal to enshrine an Obama-era program designed to shield some young immigrants from deportation into law while promoting border-security measures “excluding the wall.”
The Department of Homeland Security estimated that the border wall could cost $21 billion. An MIT study estimated that the cost could double that.
Trump, however, has generally remained steadfast. “Ultimately, we have to have the wall,” Trump told reporters earlier this month. “If we don’t have the wall, we’re doing nothing.”