Texas landown­ers dig in to fight bor­der wall

The Star Democrat - - OBITUARIES - By NOMAAN MER­CHANT

— As Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump trav­els to the bor­der in Texas to make the case for his $5.7 bil­lion wall, landowner Eloisa Cava­zos says she knows first­hand how the pro­ject will play out if the White House gets its way.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has started sur­vey­ing land along the bor­der in Texas and an­nounced plans to start con­struc­tion next month. Rather than sur­ren­der their land, some prop­erty own­ers are dig­ging in, vow­ing to re­ject buy­out of­fers and pre­par­ing to fight the ad­min­is­tra­tion in court.

“You could give me a tril­lion dol­lars and I wouldn’t take it,” said Cava­zos, whose land sits along the Rio Grande, the river sep­a­rat­ing the U.S. and Mex­ico in Texas. “It’s not about money.”

Trump is sched­uled to visit the bor­der Thurs­day in McAllen, a city of 143,000 on the river.

Congress in March funded 33 miles of walls and fenc­ing in Texas. The gov­ern­ment has laid out plans that would cut across pri­vate land in the Rio Grande Val­ley. Those in the way in­clude landown­ers who have lived in the val­ley for gen­er­a­tions, en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and a 19th cen­tury chapel.

Many have hired lawyers who are pre­par­ing to fight the gov­ern­ment if, as ex­pected, it moves to seize their land through em­i­nent do­main.

The op­po­si­tion will in­ten­sify if Democrats ac­cede to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­mand to build more than 215 new miles of wall, in­clud­ing 104 miles in the Rio Grande Val­ley and 55 miles near Laredo. Even a com­pro­mise so­lu­tion to build “steel slats,” as Trump has suggested, or more fenc­ing of the kind that Democrats have pre­vi­ously sup­ported would likely trig­ger more court cases and push­back in Texas.

Le­gal ex­perts say Trump likely can­not waive em­i­nent do­main — which re­quires the gov­ern­ment to demon­strate a pub­lic use for the land and pro­vide landown­ers with com­pen­sa­tion — by declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency.

While this is Trump’s first visit to the bor­der in Texas as pres­i­dent, his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion crack­down has been felt here for months.

Hun­dreds of the more than 2,400 chil­dren sep­a­rated from their par­ents last sum­mer were de­tained in cages at a Bor­der Pa­trol fa­cil­ity in McAllen. Three “ten­der-age” fa­cil­i­ties for the youngest chil­dren were opened in this re­gion.

The pres­i­dent also or­dered sol­diers to the bor­der in re­sponse to a wave of mi­grant car­a­vans be­fore the No­vem­ber elec­tion. Those troops had a heavy pres­ence in the Rio Grande Val­ley, though they have since qui­etly left. A spokes­woman for the bor­der se­cu­rity mis­sion said they closed their base camp along the bor­der on Dec. 22.

But Trump’s bor­der wall will last be­yond his ad­min­is­tra­tion. Build­ing in the re­gion is a top pri­or­ity for the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity be­cause it’s the busiest area for il­le­gal bor­der cross­ings. More than 23,000 par­ents and chil­dren were caught il­le­gally cross­ing the bor­der in the Rio Grande Val­ley in No­vem­ber — more than triple the num­ber from a year ear­lier.

Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials ar­gue that a wall would stop many cross­ings and de­ter Cen­tral Amer­i­can fam­i­lies from try­ing to mi­grate north. Many of those fam­i­lies are seek­ing asy­lum be­cause of vi­o­lence in their home coun­tries and of­ten turn them­selves in to bor­der agents when they ar­rive here.

The num­ber of fam­i­lies has surged. DHS said Wed­nes­day that it de­tained 27,518 adults and chil­dren trav­el­ing to­gether on the south­ern bor­der in De­cem­ber, a new monthly high.

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