Federal Government Bypasses Constitutional Law, "EMINENT DOMAIN"
Article by No Border Wall
Condemning Land to Build Border WallsIn order to build the border wall, the federal government has brought condemnation lawsuits against more than 400 landowners along the Rio Grande. This land has long been prized because of its rich soil and the year-round availability of water. Indeed, many families along the river still hold title to lands that were granted to their forefathers by the King of Spain as early as the 1760's, decades before the United States and Mexico became sovereign nations, and more than a century before the Rio Grande became their shared border. But now homeowners, farmers, municipalities, as well as privately-owned nature preserves have been forced to give up their property to the federal government, so that it can erect a patchwork of border walls that the Border Patrol describes as nothing more than a "speed bump."
Sign on private property that is now south of the border wall near Brownsville, Texas (Photo by Scott Nicol)
Bisected by the Border WallIn the low-lying river delta of South Texas, flood-control levees parallel the Rio Grande. A treaty with Mexico forbids the construction of walls or fences between these levees and the river, because a structure immediately adjacent to the river could deflect floodwaters and shift the river's course, resulting in flooding and a change in the location of the international boundary. So, to comply with the treaty, the border wall is being built into, on, or north of the levees. These are located up to two miles from the Rio Grande, leaving thousands of acres of U.S. territory, much of it privately owned, behind the border wall.
Eloisa Tamez' property has been in her family since the King of Spain issued the San Pedro Carracitos Land Grant in 1763. In 2007 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) demanded access to her land for border wall surveys, then initiated condemnation proceedings. Dr. Tamez enlisted the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and initiated a class-action lawsuit, alleging that DHS had refused to negotiate with landowners before condemning their property, as required by law. She also demanded that DHS reveal its criteria for siting the border wall, which in places runs for miles through poor and/or minority communities, then ends abruptly at the property line of an exclusive golf resort. On April 15, 2009 a federal judge ruled against Dr. Tamez, allowing the federal government to seize her land, but requiring that DHS consult with her regarding access to her walled-off property. Ignoring the judge's order DHS immediately began construction without first consulting with Dr. Tamez, and within a week the border wall bisecting her property was finished.
A child playing in the shadow of the border wall behind her Brownsville, Texas home (Photo by Scott Nicol)
When it has taken land, the Department of Homeland Security has only offered to pay for the exact footprint of the border wall (typically a 60-foot wide strip) as it passes through a given parcel of land. In their simplistic calculations, the agency has completely ignored issues such as the devaluation of contiguous property, problems accessing land and homes behind the wall, impacts on livelihood, and the importance of cultural heritage. Despite the range and complexity of these issues, DHS has steadfastly refused to enter into meaningful negotiations with property owners.
Family Farms and Nature Preserves Hit HardLeonard Loop was born 72 years ago on land farmed by his father and grandfather. He lives alongside his children and grandchildren on the land, which is now a productive citrus orchard. The border wall slices the Loop property in half. To build it, more than 70 mature grapefruit trees were bulldozed. Like other landowners, the Loops were given no opportunity for input into what would be built on their land, or whether there would be gates to accommodate their equipment and operations. Leonard's son lives in a house that is now behind the wall, and his granddaughter will have to pass through it every day to get to the school bus stop, assuming the Border Patrol decides to leave the gate unlocked. DHS has sued the Loops three times, so far, to condemn different portions of their orchard. The most recent condemnation was for the driveway to their home.
Border wall construction tearing through the Loop Orchard (Photo by Maurice Sharif)
Walling Out AmericansOther homes, businesses, and properties that are behind the levees will be walled off entirely, trapped between the border wall and the Rio Grande. DHS has refused to grant any compensation whatsoever for properties left on the "Mexican" side of the wall. Indeed, because DHS is focused solely on the wall's exact footprint, they have failed to even make contact with some of the landowners whose property is behind the wall.
The Sabal Palm Audubon Center and Sanctuary preserves another 557 acres of Sabal Palm forest, all of which will be behind the border wall. Because the wall will be built a few feet to the north of their property line, DHS has not offered Audubon any compensation whatsoever. Anne Brown, executive director of Audubon Texas, said, "One of our huge frustrations has been lack of consultation and lack of any formal process to voice our concerns. That affects how we do our planning and budgeting. From what we've heard, we'll have to close." True to her prediction, in April of 2009 the Sabal Palm Audubon Center was closed to the public.
Border wall construction cutting off the Sabal Palms Audubon Sanctuary (Photo by Scott Nicol)
In July 2008, following Secretary Chertoff's use of the Real ID Act to waive laws such as the Farmland Protection Policy Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Department of Homeland Security prepared Environmental Stewardship Plans (ESPs) for the border walls that it planned to erect. With no laws in place to dictate standards for the documents, DHS was free to say anything, no matter how ridiculous, to justify the border wall. In the ESP for Texas' Rio Grande Valley, where many of the land condemnations have occurred, DHS predicted that the border wall's "effects upon the Nation's health and economy, drug-related crimes, community cohesion, property values, and traditional family values will be long-term and beneficial, both nationally and locally."
A Brownsville, Texas, home in the shadow of the border wall (Photo by Scott Nicol)