One of President Biden’s promises when he ran as a candidate was that there would be not “another foot of wall” construction of the United States southern border wall, and that the open eminent domain cases would end. “End. Stop. Done. Over. Not going to do it. Withdraw the lawsuits. We’re out. We’re not going to confiscate the land,” Biden had told news radio station NPR in August 2020.
Yet, a U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez in Hidalgo County, Texas, ruled in mid-April 2021, “The Court grants the United States’ motion and orders all people or entities in possession or control of the Subject Property to surrender possession or control of said property to the extent of the estate being condemned to the United States, immediately.” The ruling was a result from a motion filed during the last days of the Trump administration, the hearing for which was put on hold during the Biden administration’s 60-day pause on all eminent domain cases, during which it was reviewing the federal resources going towards the building of the wall.
To be fair, no new filings have been entered, but there were around 140 eminent domain open cases for the wall, and 114 have progressed in some way since President Biden took office. Also, the Department of Justice asked Judge Alvarez for a delay in the ruling in February due to the review. However, the 60-day review has expired, and there is no expected date given when the review will be complete. White House press secretary Jen Psaki stated in early April that “wall construction remains paused… while agencies are developing a plan for the president on the management of the federal funds.” Customs and Border Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers “have suspended surveys, negotiations with landowners, and similar real estate acquisition activities, in accordance with the president’s proclamation,” a CBP spokesperson stated.
In a filing regarding a related case for a 49.71 acre easement for a road in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Texas, Laredo Division, the Assistant U.S. Attorney stated that Biden’s proclamation “left open the possibility that some aspects of the project may resume,” and that the “Secretary of Homeland Security has not shed light on the future of the border wall or the road project,” the former of which was the use of the property in question, though she did state that she “did not receive guidance on how to proceed in light the Proclamation. As such, the United States is not opposed to Defendant’s request to stay this matter and requests that the Court set a status conference for an update on whether the United States intends to pursue this lawsuit.” In this case, the estimated amount of the value of the 49.71 acres was nominally assessed by the U.S. Attorney at a measly $100.
The Cavazos family who owns the land in question in this case have had the property in their family since the mid-twentieth century and are “devastated.” It was a 77-acre ranch, from which 6.6 acres was taken by the government. Neighboring land owned by the North American Butterfly Association has been one of many organizations fighting the border wall on an environmental and safety basis. The border wall is not the only project which has taken privately-owned land, as discussed here.
No matter what side of the political aisle from which you view the validity of the construction of a border wall or not, we can all agree that even if the government, whether federal or state, has the authority to take your privately owned land, it must abide by the law and pay you just compensation. This is provided by our U.S. Constitution and adopted by all the state constitutions; a portion of our Fifth Amendment reads, “No person shall be… deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Our forefathers held that the right to freely own property is equal to that of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Indeed, the very concept of private property, whether real, personal, or intangible, forms the foundation for all our freedoms in this country. Should the Laredo Division case mentioned earlier proceed, it is my sincere hope that the owners receive a heftier figure much closer to the real value of 49+ acres of land use, even if it is for a public use. Our forefathers demand it.
Kumar, Anita. “Biden Promised to Stop Seizing Border Wall Land. His DOJ is Still Doing It.” Politico, 15 Apr. 2021. Accessed 1 Jun. 2021.
Moritz, John C. “Judge Rules Government Can Take South Texas Family’s Land Despite Biden’s ‘Pause’ on Wall.” Corpus Christi Caller Times, 15 Apr. 2021. Accessed 1 Jun. 2021.
Plaintiff’s Response To Defendant’s Motion To Dismiss And, Subject Thereto, Motion For Stay, Original Answer, Objections And Defenses And Plaintiff’s Motion To Strike Improper Pleading. United States of America v. 49.71 Acres of Land, More or Less, Situated in Webb County, State of Texas, et al. (U.S. D. Ct. for S.D. of Tex., Laredo Div.) (No. 5:21-CV-00007). 26 Mar. 2021. Accessed 1 Jun. 2021.