Monday, May 08, 2017

South Texas landowners ready to outlast Trump with long battles in court over border wall

End of a border fence in Hidalgo, Texas
(New York Times photo by Matthew Busch)
South Texas landowners whose property is slated to be taken for the U.S.-Mexico border wall are on a mission to stall the construction in courts for years, or until President Trump is no longer in office, Ron Nixon reports for The New York Times. It's not the first time Texans have taken on the government concerning a border wall and eminent domain.

In 2006, at the urging of Congress, President George W. Bush, a former Texas governor, "signed the Secure Fence Act, which mandated building physical structures to stop illegal crossings by people and vehicles," Nixon writes. "Nearly 700 miles of wall and fencing was ultimately built, mainly on federal land in California and Arizona. But the government has taken very little land in Texas, which has 1,254 miles of the border with Mexico, most of it privately owned."

Currently, more than 90 lawsuits "involving landowners opposing the federal seizure of their property in South Texas remain open from 2008," Nixon notes. "Property owners have the support of many Texas politicians in a state where land ownership has an almost mythic resonance, and their opposition to a border wall could delay any construction by years while lawsuits wind through the court system."

U.S.-Mexico border (Washington Post map)
"Trump’s proposed wall would run through a vast swath of the Rio Grande Valley," an area the Border Patrol has identified as a priority for new border fencing, Nixon writes. Last year in the Rio Grande Valley, Border Patrol agents "seized 326,393 pounds of marijuana, second only to the agency’s Tucson sector. It also seized about 1,460 pounds of cocaine, the most of any sector. Nearly 187,000 illegal border crossers were apprehended here in 2016, the most of any Border Patrol sector."

Locals "are well aware that their land has become a major point of transit for drug traffickers and smugglers, and some have been victims of crime," Nixon writes. "But they also believe that the border is already heavily patrolled, by drones, federal agents and the local authorities, and contend that a wall would have mainly a symbolic value at the cost of their land."

The government has been "able to persuade some landowners to give up land for barriers and walls, many of them balked, forcing the government into court to contest what landowners considered to be the unjust taking of their property," Nixon writes. "Over 300 condemnation cases went to court, records show. In total, the government spent at least $78 million to acquire land where fencing is now in place, according to congressional documents."

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