Eminent Domain and the Border Wall

The practical realities of building a wall or barrier along the United States-Mexico border present complex legal problems in turning private property into public land.

The taking of landowners’ private property to build the wall may represent the largest eminent domain taking in the nation’s history.

The United States-Mexico border runs almost 2,000 miles long; about two-thirds follows the Rio Grande River in Texas.  The land around the river is protected by several treaties, one of which sets the international boundary at the middle of the river.  Any border wall would likely need to be constructed a mile or more inland.  This would cut many properties in two pieces, leaving some property owners in a “no-man’s land” north of the border, but south of the wall.

The land south of the border could have little or no value.  Access would be eliminated.  The view of the wall would not be a selling point.  Thus, the value of a landowner’s remaining property is going to be much less after the building of the wall.

The cost of the wall is not just in the labor and supplies to build it.  The government must pay just compensation to the landowners whose private properties will have the wall running through them.  This duty to pay just compensation is set forth in the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  This includes payment for the actual land taken and the damages to the remaining land.

Most people do not realize that the offer made to them by the government  is likely to be low, and may not include all of the damages. Most importantly, landowners have the right to refuse the offer. If the offer is refused, government attorneys file a “Petition for Condemnation”.  At the time the Petition is filed, the government must pay the amount of the offer into court,  which a landowner can then get out of court for his or her own use while the condemnation case works its way through the court system.

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