Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Trump's budget will add lawyers for eminent domain cases to make way for border wall

Current fencing along part of the U.S./Mexico border
President Trump's budget includes adding 20 attorneys to the U.S. Department of Justice to prepare for eminent domain cases—in some cases against landowners who helped put him in office—in order to build a border wall, Tracy Jan reports for The Washington Post. Currently less than 20 of the department's 11,000 attorneys work in land acquisition. Trump said in his budget the extra attorneys were needed to “pursue federal efforts to obtain the land and holdings necessary to secure the southwest border.”

"Much of the border, especially in Texas, snakes through farms, ranches, orchards, golf courses, and other private property dating back to centuries-old Spanish land grants," Jan writes. "The battle has been fought before. The last wave of eminent domain cases over southern border properties dates back to the 2006 Secure Fence Act authorizing President George W. Bush to erect 700 miles of fencing. Of the roughly 400 condemnation cases stemming from that era, about 90 remain open a decade later, according to the Justice Department. Nearly all are in the Rio Grande Valley in southwest Texas."

"The U.S. government has already spent $78 million compensating private landowners for 600 tracts of property for the construction of the existing pedestrian and vehicle fence, according to Customs and Border Protection," Jan writes. "The agency estimates that it will spend another $21 million in real estate expenses associated with the remaining condemnation cases — not including approximately $4 million in Justice Department litigation costs."

It wouldn't be Trump's first foray into eminent domain, Jan writes. "As a developer, Trump has wielded the power of eminent domain to make way for his properties. In Scotland, he pursued compulsory purchase to force neighbors out of their homes for the Trump International Golf Links near Aberdeen. When that didn't work, he built a five-foot-tall wooden fence—then tried to make his neighbors pay for it."

"Trump also famously tried seizing the property of an elderly Atlantic City widow to make way for a limousine parking lot for his hotel and casino," Jan writes. "He has a consistent history supporting the use of eminent domain and praised the 2005 Supreme Court decision—denounced widely by conservatives—that said the government could force property owners to sell their land to make way for private economic developments that benefit the public."

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