S. Tex­ans call Trump’s wall land grab

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - RACHEL ADAMS-HEARD

Gary Ja­cobs looks out over the Rio Grande from the deck of the club­house at a pub­lic golf course in Webb County, Texas. It’s a sunny morn­ing, quiet ex­cept for the chirp­ing birds and the thwack of clubs hit­ting balls.

“Where are you go­ing to put the 30 feet?” he asks.

On this side of the river, a 270-acre plot of land Ja­cobs and his wife do­nated to boost the pro­file of Laredo, a bor­der town about 160 miles south of San An­to­nio. On the other side, Mex­ico.

Ja­cobs, like most of Laredo’s 260,000 res­i­dents, is talk­ing about Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s bor­der wall, a project that’s en­gulf­ing not just the bor­der, but Wash­ing­ton and al­most 1 mil­lion fed­eral work­ers who went un­paid dur­ing the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s par­tial shut­down.

Texas, a state where Trump de­feated Hil­lary Clin­ton by 9 per­cent­age points in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, il­lus­trates the po­lit­i­cal com­plex­ity of his push. Af­ter Trump de­clared a na­tional emer­gency Fri­day to ac­cess bil­lions of dol­lars in fund­ing, some landown­ers along the U.S.-Mex­ico line say they see a gov­ern­ment land grab in their fu­ture.

The lo­gis­tics of build­ing a bar­rier are chal­leng­ing enough. Thou­sands of creeks called “ar­royos” carry rain­wa­ter from South Texas thun­der­storms to the ex­pan­sive river, which flows into the Gulf of Mex­ico. A wall could act as a dam, trap­ping wa­ter on the U.S. side and po­ten­tially com­pli­cat­ing how Mex­i­cans and Amer­i­cans share the river for their wa­ter sup­ply, says Ja­cobs.

But his big­ger prob­lem with the wall is con­sti­tu­tional.

“The way the em­i­nent do­main laws are writ­ten, we have no rights,” says Ja­cobs, who was a former chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Laredo Na­tional Bank be­fore re­tir­ing. “That’s the is­sue. It’s not what they’re go­ing to build. It’s how they’re tak­ing the land.”

At least one law­suit is chal­leng­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion, with oth­ers likely to fol­low. The first, brought by the non­profit group Pub­lic Ci­ti­zen on be­half of pri­vate landown­ers, ar­gues that Trump vi­o­lated the U.S. con­sti­tu­tion’s sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers when he in­voked the Na­tional Emer­gen­cies Act.

About two-thirds of Amer­i­cans op­pose Trump’s ex­pan­sive as­ser­tion of pres­i­den­tial au­thor­ity, ac­cord­ing to a CNN poll re­leased Fri­day.

Prop­erty seizure laws set up in the 1800s leave ranch­ers and landown­ers few options. Of­ten, work will al­ready be un­der­way or even fin­ished be­fore a judge rules on whether the money paid to prop­erty own­ers was fair resti­tu­tion. Apart from the U.S. gov­ern­ment claim­ing em­i­nent do­main to build roads, oil and gas com­pa­nies will use it to lay pipe­lines through pri­vate prop­erty. Now, there’s Trump’s wall.

“Philo­soph­i­cally, that’s ab­hor­rent to me,” says Ja­cobs, 77, who con­sid­ers him­self a Repub­li­can though he’s voted for Democrats in the past.

While Ja­cobs con­demns the wall, he makes it clear that he ad­vo­cates stricter en­force­ment of im­mi­gra­tion laws and sup­ports the lo­cal Bor­der Pa­trol.

It’s a sen­ti­ment shared by Mauri­cio Vi­dau­rri, whose fam­ily’s land along the Rio Grande dates back to 1750.

“We wel­come Bor­der Pa­trol to come in and put their sen­sors, their cam­eras,” Vi­dau­rri says as he drives his pickup through a gate that leads to one of eight 140-acre plots he shares with his sib­lings. A few years ago, a house on his sis­ter’s land was dam­aged by what he thinks was a drug smug­gler. Bor­der Pa­trol came in and in­stalled video cam­eras and ground sen­sors, and they haven’t had a prob­lem since.

“The feral hogs are more of a prob­lem,” he says.

Vi­dau­rri works as an in­spec­tor for U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion, so he says he un­der­stands the need for strict im­mi­gra­tion laws. As a landowner, he says a wall isn’t the right way to go about it.

The wall threat­ens to cut through earth that lit­er­ally con­tains his fam­ily’s past. Both his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther are buried in a fam­ily ceme­tery on the prop­erty. In the south­east cor­ner of the lot, an Amer­i­can and U.S. Marine Corps flag wave — an ode to his fa­ther’s ser­vice dur­ing World War II.

Now, that same gov­ern­ment may send a let­ter any day say­ing it’s tak­ing the land for a bor­der wall.

“It’s cruel, man. It’s just cruel,” he says. “I’m re­ally, re­ally scared that they’re go­ing to take my land.”

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