One section of Trump's US-Mexico border wall could prompt 'decades of court cases' from private landowners

  • The Trump administration could end up seizing land from private-property owners in Texas for its US-Mexico border wall.
  • Possible 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 US-Mexico border wall could face legal challenges from private property owners in Texas because the state makes up a large portion of the southern US border with Mexico, 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. Within this area is nearly 5,000 parcels of property that could be seized by the government for border-wall construction — 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. An unverified Department of Homeland Security draft of a lawmaker’s line of questioning showed that although it was “always DHS’ preference to acquire private property through voluntary sale,” it admitted that on some occasions, “condemnation is the only method for acquiring the needed property,” according to a ThinkProgress report published in August.

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, chair of the Public Affairs and Security Studies Department at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said in 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 that alleged the wall violated federal environmental standards and constitutional provisions on the separation of powers and states’ rights.

Although 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 that await in Texas could prove to be a minefield for the president.

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 only just faced his first major test as president in Texas after parts of the state were destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. He swiftly signed legislation earlier this month that would deliver about $US7.4 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, another $US7.4 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and $US450 million for the Small Business Administration.

Despite the relief funds, the Trump administration said it would maintain restrictions already in place that make it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to find jobs with employers 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 are voicing their strong opposition. That was seen most recently in a bipartisan agreement touted by Sen. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, in which they said they worked out a deal to enshrine DACA into law while promoting border-security measures “excluding the wall.”

The Department of Homeland Security estimated the border wall could cost $US21 billion. An MIT study estimated the cost could double that.

Trump would hear nothing of it: “Ultimately, we have to have the wall,” Trump told reporters earlier this month. “If we don’t have the wall, we’re doing nothing.”

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