U.S. citizens who own property along the border dividing the United States from Mexico have been reportedly receiving communications from the Department of Justice that the federal government wants their land to build President Trump’s projected border wall. The letters advise them that the federal government seeks to take their land, while also informing them of the amount of compensation it is offering.
Entitled “Declaration of Taking,” the letters sent by the Justice Department ask recipients to sign off on the acquisition in order to receive the amount of compensation the government is prepared to provide. The letter asks the recipients to acknowledge that “they do not have an interest” and that they do not seek to make a claim against the government. No advice is given to those landowners who do not wish to turn over their land. In some cases, there are landowners who have owned property on the border -- and sometimes straddling the international border -- for generations, in some cases going back to the Mexican-American War of the 1840s.
According to a story in the Texas Observer, Texas landowner Yvette Salinas -- who owns a parcel of land along with her siblings near the Rio Grande -- received a “Declaration of Taking” letter that offered $2,900 for her 1.2 acres. The Texas Observer wrote that the total 16 acres of land held by her family has been in their family for five generations. Salinas admitted that the “scary” letter makes “you feel you have to sign.” The Salinas family has consulted an attorney about what to do next.
Most of the land along the almost 2,000 miles of the southern border of the United States is in private or state hands: 67 percent. The other 33 percent of the land is held by the federal government and various tribes. In order to acquire the tribal lands along the border, President Trump would need an act of Congress.
Acquiring the land needed for the wall could require the exercise of "eminent domain" — which is the government’s power to force owners to sell land for a public purpose. According to the Tribune News Service, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) said, "You're taking land that in some cases belonged to people for generations. In Texas, private property rights is a very, very important concept." Cuellar said "Mexico is not going to pay for this wall. We all want to secure the border, but there are smarter, better ways of securing the border.” Predicting that there will be push-back from Congress, Cuellar said that while there will be strategic fending, “It's not going to be what President Trump has envisioned."
President Trump has asked for $4.1 billion through next year to begin building the wall, which by some projections may cost $25 billion, not including repairs. Trump’s budget includes a proposal to hire 20 attorneys to pursue federal efforts to seize land and holdings along the border.