South Texas Landowners Resist Trump Administration’s Push To Survey Their Land For Border Wall
The Trump administration has been taking landowners in Webb and Zapata counties to court to survey their land for border wall construction. But some are pushing back on the grounds that they’re not receiving fair compensation.
“They want to seek access so they can determine where the wall is going to be and do it at their leisure over a 12-month period at a time. Getting on our land, doing whatever they want with respect to the investigation on [the] land, and not paying us a penny,” said Ricardo de Anda, a Laredo attorney and Webb County landowner, at a Monday press conference.
He filed an objection on Friday on behalf of one of his clients arguing that condemnation proceedings brought forward by the federal government to survey land along the border violate landowners’ right to just compensation under the Fifth Amendment.
The filing says federal agents were only offering de Anda’s client $100 and told him no other landowners were being compensated for right of entry, so de Anda is now asking a federal court to require individual appraisals of the different lands the government is targeting.
This is the second legal action under the Fifth Amendment that a coalition of landowners and activists have championed in the last few weeks in what has become a drawn out fight against a border wall.
Last week, Zapata County and two landowners filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration arguing that landowners in the predominantly Latino counties are being discriminated against because of President Donald Trump’s repeated negative comments against Mexicans and Latinos.
“The No Border Wall Laredo Coalition just got a whole lot stronger,” said Tricia Cortez, executive director of the Rio Grande International Study Center, a Laredo environmental nonprofit. “We’re here to send the message that, contrary to what the government wants us to believe, the wall is not a done deal, and together, if we stand together, we can stop it.”
The coalition and de Anda are urging landowners to not sign right of entry agreements for the government to survey properties along the Rio Grande, which currently serves as the natural border between the U.S. and Mexico. The coalition is using field organizers and a hotline to inform other landowners of their rights.
But some landowners like Joseph Hein, a rancher and animal breeder, have already signed right of entry agreements. He said he was made to understand that he only had one of two choices: To sign the agreement or face a lawsuit from the federal government.
So he signed earlier this year, hoping to stall the process and get more information. But he said Customs and Border Protection agents haven’t been transparent.
When he tried to ask for more information to decide whether or not to make repairs to his ranch, he said agents took offense.
“The moment that I rock the boat—and not for the sake of rocking the boat—but because it’s vital information for the safety of my family and myself, they get offended like you don’t have that right,” he said. “I gave them permission to survey my property. I never gave them permission to be part owners of my property, where I have to ask for permission.”
The City of Laredo also entered a right of entry agreement with the federal government in June for the city’s downtown riverfront. Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said at the time that they were also hoping to prolong the process until the November presidential election.
The city has proposed building a concrete riverwalk or bulkhead instead of a steel barrier.
“Going back, you know, since all of this wall business began, the City of Laredo’s position has been no physical structure. No wall,” he previously told Texas Public Radio. “But of course, the government has been insisting on this and now they're here, and we have to just deal with them the best way we can.”
De Anda sees that move as a “mistake.” He says signing right of entry agreements won’t stop the Trump administration from “bullying” its way toward a border wall.
“We as the citizens of Laredo deserve that compensation, and it’s not stalling it,” he said. “It’s making it easier for the government to site the wall on city property. That’s why we’re asking landowners not to sign anything, not without having a lawyer next to them.”
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