The Trump administration is hiring a small army of attorneys to fight landowners so the government can seize the property needed to build the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border that President Donald Trump promised his supporters.
It is not clear how many Americans will have their land seized, how long the process will take, or how much it will cost, according to a new report published by Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security Committee Monday. But the administration is gearing up for a fight nonetheless.
It is seeking $2 million to hire 12 land acquisition attorneys at the Department of Justice to mount an “initial surge” of land seizures from holdout landowners who aren’t willing to part with their property on the government’s terms. The administration aims to acquire “hundreds or thousands of parcels of land” to construct the border wall, according to government documents seen by the report’s authors.
Lawyers from the Department of Homeland Security are also expected to chip in with “significant litigation support in defense of various challenges to the construction of the physical wall as well as in the condemnation of land along the southwest border,” the government documents said.
About two-thirds of the land along the border is owned by private landowners or U.S. states. Usually the government evaluates the land and then offers a market rate price. If the property owners refuse, the attorney general can seize the land by calling “eminent domain”—a process also known as “condemnation”—turning the land from private to public use. Landowners can fight for more compensation through U.S. District Courts.
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The government has restarted litigating several of these cases that have laid dormant for nearly a decade.
Many of these cases are underway in Texas where 90 cases are still pending after the government moved to seize border land in 2007. The government projects it will cost about $21 million to resolve the suits.
In one instance, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spent $78 million to get the land to build on just 211 miles of the southwest border, which took about 330 lawsuits.
Although the government doesn’t plan to build along entire 2,000 mile border with Mexico, it will cost significant amounts to pay private landowners and fight legal battles.
During an interview with Fox News’s Laura Ingraham early this month, Trump said that he believes that wall won’t cost more than $18 billion. “I think for $18 billion or less we're going to have a great wall. We're doing prototypes right now,” Trump told Ingraham.
“They're saying the wall's going to cost $40 billion. It's not going to cost anywhere near that. The Democrats are saying [that]. We're talking about less than half,” Trump said.
In April, Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security Committee estimated the wall will cost $70 billion after making projections using CBP numbers and plans provided by the administration. Those numbers, however, didn’t include the legal costs of paying to seize the land.
To get full funding for his wall in October, Trump hitched its price to the preservation of DACA—a program Democrats want to keep that allows young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents to continue working and living in America.
The president has requested $1.6 billion in next year’s budget to begin building 74 miles of border barrier. Last month CBP showed off several 30-foot-tall wall prototypes that it constructed along the border.
Before the government gets started “spending billions of taxpayer dollars on the construction of a wall along the southwest border,” the Democrat report calls for Trump and his administration to sit down and price the cost of actually getting the land to build it.
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