WASHINGTON (Nov. 23, 2020) – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) announced that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report detailing that as of July 2020 the federal government has seized 135 private tracts of land and is trying to acquire 991 additional tracts for the Trump administration’s expensive, ineffective border wall.
The GAO report comes after Senators Udall and Heinrich, along with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), wrote a letter to U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro in August 2019 calling for an investigation into the Trump administration’s use of eminent domain to seize private land to build a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The GAO report also details that most of the privately owned land the government acquired or is working to acquire totals about 5,275 acres. The Border Patrol planned for private land acquisition in South Texas to take 21 to 30 months compared with 12 months for comparable land acquisitions in other regions. Additionally, the GAO report found wide disparities in the compensation the Federal Government offered to land owners, between $1,440 and $870,261 per acre, with a median of $13,336 per acre. The report shows the Trump administration is still taking land from private landowners, and, for the first time, makes public the amount of land the Federal Government has seized so far and how much more they plan to take.
Senators Schumer, Durbin, Udall and Heinrich write, “As Congress’s independent watchdog confirms, this administration is still actively seizing the private land of farmers and ranchers to build Trump’s wasteful, divisive border wall. In anticipation of President-elect Biden’s administration, we call on the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to immediately stop any efforts to take private land away from farmers and ranchers against their will and to return to our men and women serving in the military all money stolen to fund this shameful project without delay.”
Senators Udall and Heinrich remain vehemently opposed to the funding and construction of the Trump administration’s border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Udall and Heinrich have also both forcefully denounced the administration’s efforts to raid $125 million from New Mexico military construction projects, including $85 million from a project at Holloman Air Force Base and $40 million from a project at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), to pay for President Trump’s border wall.
In the August 2019 letter, Senate Democrats underscored that the Trump administration had failed to provide specific information regarding its eminent domain efforts, including how many citizens will have their land seized, definitive real estate costs or requirements, or a timetable for completing land acquisition efforts, despite repeated requests from Congress. The request came after Senate Democratssuccessfully pressured the Trump administration to stop its efforts to use eminent domain to seize land from religious organizations like the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Texas and its La Lomita Chapel—a 153 year old structure—that would have been jeopardized by the construction of a border wall.
The GAO Southwest Border Information on Federal Agencies’ Process for Acquiring Private Land for Barriers Report can be found HERE.