According to a story in The Independent, around 100 private landowners who own property along the U.S.-Mexico border have received letters from the government informing them that at least part of their land will be needed to build a new border wall, as promised by President Donald Trump on the campaign trail in 2016. The letters are seen as the first step in the process of the government legally seizing the land, and landowners in Texas along the Rio Grande have reported that government surveyors have already been asking for permission to assess the land.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” said Texas property owner Yvette Gaytan. “What are we going to do if they take everything?”
Indeed, Gaytan and others report that they feel they have more to fear from their own government than from alleged hordes of illegal migrants and drug smugglers Trump claims are crossing into the U.S. every day. Gaytan also spoke about how people in the area are tied to the land through family and history.
“My dad always said he would never move from here. He never did. He never wanted to go anywhere else. This is where he wanted to stay. He wanted to be buried in the backyard. This is our last tether, our last anchor to them.”
The fears expressed by landowners like Gaytan are not unprecedented either. In 2006, when Congress passed the Secure Fencing Act, signed into law by then-President George W. Bush, nearly 700 miles of border fencing was approved, leading to dozens of lawsuits from private property owners who were evicted from their land. Many of those lawsuits are still pending to this day.
Landowners who may be facing eviction today are looking down the barrel of a government that has previously used the legal doctrine of “eminent domain” to seize land for border fencing, claiming that it is for the “public good.” Oftentimes, the courts have sided with the government on the issue.
As alleged by The Independent, Trump himself is no stranger to using eminent domain to get property he wants. In the early 1990s, he found himself in an epic squabble with an elderly homeowner who lived on a parcel of land Trump wanted for a parking lot for one of his New Jersey hotels.
Initially, Trump offered the woman $1 million to sell the property, but when she refused, he engineered a lawsuit that was filed by a New Jersey casino development authority to condemn the property under eminent domain and seize the land. The effort was tossed out by the courts in 1998 and the woman retained the property until she finally sold it in 2011 to another buyer.
“What we’re doing with eminent domain is, in many cases, we’ll make a deal up front,” Trump said in January. “And if we can’t make a deal, we take the land and we pay them through a court process. Which goes actually fairly quickly. And we’re generous. But we take the land. Otherwise, you could never build anything.”
In his apparent desperation to fulfill his oft-touted campaign promise of constructing a border wall, Trump is facing some pushback from his own party. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Tenn.), among others, has begun to publicly voice doubts about Trump’s threat to force another government shutdown in order to attempt to get Congress to give him the funding he wants for the wall.