DHS, DOJ Gearing Up to Seize Americans’ Land For Trump’s Border Wall
Yvette Salinas and her family own 16 acres of land in Texas, not far from the Rio Grande River. She says her family has lived on and tended to the modest plot for five generations, so long ago that no one in Salinas’ family remembers exactly when they first came there.
In 2008, Salinas’ mother, Aleida Flores, says the Department of Homeland Security contacted her to inform her that, due to then-President Bush’s Secure Fence Act of 2006, a portion of her land would be acquired. A letter from DHS stated that a 1.2 acre section would have to be sold to the federal government, otherwise it would be seized without consent.
Given this was the last year of Bush’s administration, Flores and her family held off making a decision regarding the DHS’ ultimatum. To their good fortune, Barack Obama soon entered the White House and made building the barrier on the Mexico – U.S. border a low priority.
This changed, however, at the beginning of 2017, not long after Donald Trump’s presidential win. According to Salinas, her mother was served with a “Declaration of Taking” from the DHS just a few weeks into January. As in 2008, the document outlined the federal government’s intent to purchase the 1.2 acre plot for $2,900.
Were Flores not to comply, the DHS letter explains that “eminent domain” would enable the government to acquire the land irrespective of Flores’ decision.
The legality of exercising eminent domain in the United States originates from the Fifth Amendment. Here, the Constitution states that the government can seize property but must provide “just compensation.” In the years since, this process has been clarified by the U.S. Supreme Court and executive orders which require eminent domain acquisition to occur only in the “purpose of benefiting the general public.”
Salinas says other people in the Los Ebanos, Texas, area with land are recieving similar letters from the DHS. She finds the letter intimidating, explaining that “you feel like you have to sign.”
Salinas’ family and their neighbors are unlikely to be the only private landowners on the Mexico – U.S. border to be compelled to sell pieces of their property to the government.
A look at a White House document outlining the Trump administration’s recently announced budget shows how seriously this push to acquire property for the border wall will be. It explains that part of the funding going into the Department of Justice in the coming fiscal year will be reserved for hiring 20 new lawyers whose jobs it will be to secure plots of private land and deal with owners who opt to turn down voluntary acquisition requests.
Readers may recall the spectacle that was the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff in Oregon last year or the preceding incident involving the Bundy family of Nevada in 2014.
Both of these situations revolved around a long standing legal dispute between the Bundys, a family of cattle ranchers, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The former were informed that they had illegally used government land for grazing purposes; when the BLM sought to enforce this, they faced armed opposition from the Bundys as well as others, many of whom consider themselves “sovereign citizens.”
These individuals – identified by the FBI as among the country’s largest domestic terrorism threat – rallied around the Bundys and their struggle.
Now that we’re refreshed on that situation, let us consider whether these individuals would be likely to come to the aid of people like Aleida Flores, a woman whose Latino family actually legally possesses and has lived on their land for many generations. Would the Bundys and their supporters oppose the creation of Trump’s border wall to protect citizens’ right to hold onto their properties?
The landowners in Los Ebanos are on the front line of Trump’s border wall project but it certainly won’t end there. It will be interesting to see whether those like the Bundys will make a similar stand to deter eminent domain acquisitions.
Though I cannot speak for the Bundys, somehow it seems highly unlikely.
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