Condemnation for the US-Mexico Border Wall
Texans on the southern border have begun receiving letters from the Department of Homeland Security. These letters contain a 21-page document called a “Declaration of Taking” informing the landowner receiving it that his or her property is being subjected to condemnation for the purpose of “construct[ing] a fence and related improvements designed to secure the border, as required by the Secure Fence Act of 2006….” These letters are not for the much-discussed border wall as proposed by Donald Trump, but are a continuation of the border fencing approved by Congress in the Secure Fence Act of 2006. While much of this border fencing was completed during the Bush Administration, a floodplain treaty between the US and Mexico, as well as the different political priorities of the Obama administration, put fence building on the back burner. But the 2016 presidential campaign has put border security back in the limelight.
Letters seeking condemnation of private property along the US/Mexico border may soon become commonplace due to Trump’s commitment to the notion that a border wall is a key element to solving what some believe is an immigration crisis in this country. The wall has already sparked much discussion and disagreement on both sides of the political aisle, and every new development results in further speculation and debate. Although many communities on the Texas side of the border do not want the wall, the decision is to condemn their land is not subject to a local referendum, but will be decided by certain politicians in Washington, D.C.
The latest iteration of the border wall proposal calls for a wall 1,250 miles long, to be completed by 2020. It is said that it will be built in several phases, beginning with extending and reinforcing existing fencing built under the Secure Fence Act, and continuing with new construction extending across the length of the entire border. This existing fencing was constructed largely on federally-owned lands. That kept costs down, since the federal government did not have the expense of acquiring the underlying land. The remainder of that fencing was built on largely private and State-owned lands, and was the subject of extensive, and expensive, condemnation litigation. An Associated Press review of border-related eminent domain cases in 2012 found that the U.S. government spent approximately $15 million to acquire 300 properties along the border in Texas.
The Government Accountability Office reports that “federal and tribal lands make up 632 miles, or approximately 33 percent, of the nearly 2,000 total border miles.” The remaining 67 percent are in private and state-owned hands. These lands, mostly in Texas, are going to have to be purchased or condemned since much of the already existing fencing exhausted the available federal land along the border. As with all condemnation, the compensation offered to these landowners will be limited to a “constitutionally acceptable minimum,” and not one penny more. It is up to the individual landowner to stand up for his or her rights and legacy, and demand fair compensation for the unsolicited taking of his or her property. This can mean a long and protracted fight. In the case of Dr. Eloisa G. Tamez, the 2008 condemnation of her ancestral property in Calaboz, TX (just west of Brownsville) was finally resolved in 2016. If the border wall is to go forward, many more landowners will soon be in Dr. Tamez’s position.
If you have been contacted by the federal government regarding an offer to purchase your property under threat of condemnation, have received a “Declaration of Taking, or have property along the Texas/Mexico border, and would like to know more about how the border wall may affect you, call Patrick Reznik for a free consultation – 512-894-5426.