The Trump administration is moving forward in the courts to seize private land needed to build a wall in Texas along the southern border with Mexico, Breitbart reported Saturday.
Texas contains the largest portion of the border between the U.S. and Mexico of any other state in the union, and most of it is still unfenced. The section along the Rio Grande is largely in private hands and is characterized by miles of environmentally sensitive areas.
This month, the Trump administration filed three lawsuits designed to claim land from property owners, and it also moved to seize another piece of privately owned property in advance of a hearing scheduled for February. The government holds a substantial legal advantage when seeking to seize private lands pursuant to its constitutional power of eminent domain.
The U.S. Department of Justice says it plans to file many more such petitions in the coming weeks, but it could face opposition from environmental groups that don’t want to see a border wall erected in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to several endangered species, The Guardian notes.
During his 2016 campaign, Trump announced his intention to build 500 miles of border wall during his first term, but only about 90 miles have been constructed so far, and much of that has involved the rebuilding of existing barriers.
It remains to be seen whether the fulfillment of Trump’s original goal is even possible in the 10 months that remain until the 2020 election. One thing is certain, namely that his opponents are trying to prevent his success at every step of the process. One judge recently ordered a pro-Trump lobbying group to stop building its own wall close to the Rio Grande, The Washington Post notes.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection says it plans to have 450 miles of wall built by the end of 2020, with another 59 miles under construction possible “pending availability of real estate.”
In at least one location that is on government land, however, construction has been delayed due to groundwater saturation that prevents a stable foundation from being built.
Just compensation required
It is important to note that the government’s exercise of its power of eminent domain does not involve a simple seizure of private property without payment to the rightful owners.
The government is required to provide “just compensation” to the owners of any property obtained in this way. Still, the law does allow the government to deposit with the courts an amount it considers fair and then take ownership of the land while the final numbers are negotiated.
Opponents of the border wall have argued that since border crossings have dropped dramatically from the highs seen earlier in the year, wall construction is not the urgent priority it once was. But there are still significant numbers of illegal crossings happening each month, and the only way to stop them for good is by building the wall.
Some landowners near the border are cooperating with efforts to construct a permanent barrier because they support its underlying purpose, while others indicate that they will continue fighting to keep control of their land until the very end.