Texas landowners along the Mexican border received letters from Washington recently notifying them of the government’s intent to buy their land to build the border wall. Acquiring the real estate could be the biggest step for President Donald Trump to overcome in his effort to secure the border.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) sent letters to Texas border landowners notifying them as to the government’s intent to purchase the land needed for construction of the border wall promised by President Trump and previously authorized by Congress. One family received a letter offering $2,900 for 1.2 of their 16-acre property, the Texas Observer reported.
The Flores family has owned the acreage, located near Los Ebanos in Hidalgo County, for at least five generations, Yvette Salinas told the Observer. Her mother, Maria Flores, received a letter from the DOJ in January offering the compensation via a 21-page “Declaration of Taking,” the first step in an eminent domain condemnation process.
Salinas said this is the second time her family has received the $2,900 offer. The first notice came in 2008 following the passage of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Following President Barrack’s election in 2008, the Justice Department backed away from the process as the administration took a different stance on building the wall.
President Trump asked Congress to add 20 lawyers to the DOJ for the purpose of negotiating the acquisition of the land that will be required for building the fence along the southwest border with Mexico, the Wall Street Journal reported. Much of the needed land is owned by private citizens.
In order for the government to take the land, they must prove the land is needed for “public use.” The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution requires the government offer “just compensation” for property it seeks to take from private citizens.
Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Robert McNamara told the Wall Street Journal, “Governments using eminent domain consistently underestimate how difficult it is to condemn property.” The government must first attempt to negotiate a purchase price. If an agreement cannot be reached, the government can then proceed to court were a condemnation declaration can be issued.
The process could drag out for many years, attorneys told the news outlet.
Yvette Salinas told the Texas Observer that receiving the letter was “scary.” She said she felt pressure to sign it but is moving forward with talking to attorneys about fighting the process. She said the letter asks the property owner to sign away their land and their interest in filing a dispute on the condemnation process.
The Government Accounting Office reports the 2,000-mile border with Mexico is composed of tracts owned by private citizens, various levels of government, and tribal lands. More than 630 miles is owned by various tribes and would require authorization by Congress for the federal government to acquire their land.