The Border Fence vs. Private Property Rights
The Washington Post has a detailed article this morning about the government’s efforts to steal private property to build a fence along the Mexican border:
EL CALABOZ, Tex. — In the 240 years since the Spanish Crown granted Eloisa Tamez’s colonial ancestors title to this flat, grassy expanse along the Rio Grande’s northern bank, her family has steadily lost its holdings to the Mexican War of Independence, the U.S. annexation of Texas and the Great Depression.
Now Tamez faces what could prove the final blow: The Department of Homeland Security has proposed building a section of the U.S-Mexico border fence mandated by Congress directly through the last three acres of the family’s original 12,000-acre tract.
But the 72-year-old nursing professor has a message for any government officials who expect her to leave quietly. “I’m not going down without a fight,” Tamez said, her dark eyes narrowing as she gazed beyond her back yard toward a field where she used to pick tomatoes as a child. “My father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather farmed this land. This is the land that gave me my life and my spirit. . . . I will fight this all the way.”
And Tamez isn’t the only one who stands to have her property stolen:
Over the past several weeks, U.S. attorneys acting on behalf of the Homeland Security Department have been filing lawsuits against the holdouts. Already, federal district judges have ordered one landowner in California, 11 in Arizona and 11 in Texas — including the small city of Eagle Pass — to temporarily surrender their properties. The mayor of Eagle Pass, which is located about 100 miles southwest of San Antonio and stands to lose 233 acres of city-owned land, said the city is planning to appeal. Suits are also pending against 14 landowners in California and 44 in South Texas, including Tamez.
News of the lawsuits has sent a chill through the chain of tiny centuries-old South Texas settlements that dot the Rio Grande like beads on a necklace. Like Tamez, many residents of these hamlets are descendants of the Spanish settlers who colonized the region in the late 1700s. But significant numbers of them are now impoverished, and even those who have become middle-class professionals, such as Tamez, lack deep pockets for a legal battle.
But here’s the particularly galling part, in many cases the border fence isn’t even being built on the border:
According to preliminary maps, large stretches of the proposed fence would be located more than a mile inland from the river, cutting off substantial swaths of land.
In other words, the fence would be cutting people off from several square miles of property that actually lies within the United States to begin with.
Though I find the idea of a border fence in the middle of the desert to be of dubious value, there are, as the article points out, other solutions. Vehicle barriers have been used in parts of Arizona. In other places, the levees along the Rio Grande are being built as high as 18 feet — an unscalable length — and border patrol reconnaissance is being increased.
In other words, there are ways to secure the border that don’t involve outright property theft. Here’s hoping the Feds don’t get away with it.