April 19, 2017; Texas Observer
Although the plan for building a wall along the Mexican border has changed from an actual 700-foot wall to a series of different types of obstructions, a memo leaked last week suggests that the federal government’s highest priority for a physical border wall is a 34-mile-long stretch in the Rio Grande Valley. Accordingly, attorneys with the Texas Civil Rights Project will start holding “know your rights” meetings for landowners in communities along the Mexican border next month to let them know what they can do to resist the government’s taking of their land by eminent domain.
The Project has a network of 11 lawyers on staff and dozens of volunteers at the ready to assist those who want to resist. And this will not be the organization’s first rodeo; after the Secure Fence Act of 2006 authorized 700 miles of border fencing, they worked with a dozen families over the years as they fought the government’s attempts to pursue federal condemnation lawsuits.
As a delaying tactic, these suits have much to recommend them. More than 320 cases were filed on behalf of families in response to the 2006 act, and more than a decade later, 91 of those cases are still pending. The Texas Civil Rights Project wants to start doing outreach earlier this time so they can prevent families from feeling forced to comply.
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“This time around we want landowners to know they can say ‘no’ to the first offer for their land and they can ask for just compensation and a jury trial,” said Efren Olivares, an attorney with the project. “A lot of people didn’t know that last time, and they signed away their land.”
Other legal battles are being readied, according to the blog Lawfare:
Apart from seeking environmental waivers for parts of the border wall (which the administration has already allegedly begun doing), a recently filed lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, along with House Representative Raúl Graijalva (D-AZ), argues that the Trump administration must submit its plans to an environmental review before erecting a border wall. Separately, the Tohono O’odham, an indigenous group whose land stretches across the border, has also filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to impede the border wall. And finally, adding more complications to the wall’s construction will be its compliance with the regulations set out by the United States and Mexico’s International Boundary and Water Commission.