Trump’s ‘big, beautiful wall’ will require him to take big swaths of other people’s land
Tracy Jan reports in the Washington Post:
The order has been issued for the immediate construction of a Mexico border wall. The specs have been outlined: 30 feet high and “aesthetically pleasing.” The next thing on President Trump’s to-do list for building his “big, beautiful wall”: Hire more lawyers for a long and expensive battle over private land.
The wall will cost a lot more — politically and economically — than Trump has publicly acknowledged. To build the wall along the nearly 2,000-mile border — and fulfill a key campaign promise — Trump will need to wield the power of government to forcibly take private properties, including those belonging to his supporters.
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. As a signpost to the troubles ahead, the government has still not finished the process from the last such undertaking a decade ago.
“It’s going to be time consuming and costly,” said Tony Martinez, an attorney who is mayor of the border town of Brownsville, Tex. “From a political perspective, you have a lot of rich landowners who were his supporters.”
Trump, in his recent budget proposal, is calling for the addition of 20 Justice Department attorneys to “pursue federal efforts to obtain the land and holdings necessary to secure the southwest border.” The Justice Department would not expand upon the details. Of the department’s 11,000 attorneys, fewer than 20 currently work in land acquisition. Trump’s budget would double that.
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. 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. . .
And the wall is totally not needed: illegal immigration across the southern border is today negligible. OTOH, severe cuts to the U.S. Coast Guard budget to build the wall will indeed damage our national security.