Washington, D.C. (August 14, 2019) — U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) yesterday joined Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in a letter to U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro requesting that the U.S. Government Accountability Office investigate the Trump Administration’s efforts to exercise the power of eminent domain to seize privately held land to build a border wall at the southern border of the United States.
The letter follows the Senators’ January 2019 inquiry to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) demanding answers regarding the Trump Administration’s attempts to use eminent domain against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, TX, to build a border wall, and the Supreme Court’s decision in late June 2019, which allowed the Trump Administration to move forward with taking funding from the military to construct a border wall while litigation continues.
The Senators ask how much private land DHS must acquire in order to complete its planned southern border wall or barrier deployments, what public outreach DHS has engaged in with border communities regarding land acquisition and eminent domain, and what challenges DHS faces when acquiring private land along the southern border.
Earlier this year, Senators Heinrich and Udall introduced the Full Fair and Complete Exchange Act, legislation that would prohibit the federal government from taking possession of land for border infrastructure until all persons or entities entitled to compensation are remunerated in full. The bill ensures that the federal government provide compensation on a timely basis for land acquired for border infrastructure, and would require consultation and approval from relevant stakeholders, including tribes, for any acquired State land.
The full text of the letter can be found here and below.
Dear Comptroller Dodaro:
We write to request your office investigate the Trump Administration’s efforts to exercise the power of eminent domain to build a wall on the southern border of the United States.
Recent actions taken by the Trump Administration in support of construction of a border wall have raised important questions regarding the impact the use of eminent domain will have on private landowners. Despite repeated requests, specific information regarding these efforts has not been provided to Congress, including the number of citizens who will have their land seized, definitive real estate requirements, costs to taxpayers, or a timetable for completing the seizure of private land. Although required by law, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has also not yet provided a plan to consult local elected officials on the eminent domain process relating to physical barriers along the border.
Given that 67 percent of the land along the southwest border belongs to entities other than the federal government, we are troubled by this lack of transparency. We are particularly concerned given that landowners whose property was seized during prior border barrier construction efforts have told Congress they did not receive just compensation for their land and, in some instances, were still waiting to be compensated for takings that occurred nearly a decade ago.
While the federal government must provide the necessary resources to secure our borders, any use of eminent domain must take into account the rights of landowners and provide just compensation for any public taking of private property. To better understand the Trump Administration’s exercise of eminent domain to build a border wall, we request that you address the following questions:
1. What are the policies and processes governing DHS’s use of eminent domain to acquire private land?
a. What specific processes and policies are in place for the identification and acquisition of private land needed to construct any border wall or barrier, including those related to obtaining rights of entry for survey and exploration, completing an appraisal to determine fair market value, acquiring privately-owned land through negotiated offers to sell, providing compensation to land owners, and exercising condemnation authority?
b. How are eminent domain actions coordinated across other federal entities, including the Department of Justice and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers? c. How much private land does DHS need to acquire in order to complete its planned southern border wall or barrier deployments? 2. How much private land has DHS already acquired (or is in the process of acquiring), and how much money has DHS spent providing compensation to land-owners over the last decade?
3. What public outreach has DHS engaged in with border communities regarding land acquisition and eminent domain?
4. What are the most significant challenges DHS faces when acquiring private land along the southern border?
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.