The Trump administration filed a lawsuit against several thousand acres of land in South Texas on Monday in an effort to move forward with construction of the controversial and long-stalled border wall.
Submitted on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the lawsuit names “5,934 acres of land, more or less” in Hidalgo County as well as Mary Francis Chupick Bennett as the defendants in the eminent domain action.
Presented as a complaint in condemnation, the lawsuit is a typical Department of Justice (DHS) filing used to condemn private property in order for the government to forcibly gain control, access and title when the landowner refuses to sell the real estate in question.
Declarations of takings were originally permitted and limited by the Bill of Rights via the Fifth Amendment and later further elaborated upon via the Federal Declaration of Taking Act, both which provide that any such taking is conditioned on the government providing “just compensation” for the property sought by the state.
Per that statute, such information includes:
(1) a statement of the authority under which, and the public use for which, the land is taken; (2) a description of the land taken that is sufficient to identify the land; (3) a statement of the estate or interest in the land taken for public use; (4) a plan showing the land taken; and (5) a statement of the amount of money estimated by the acquiring authority to be just compensation for the land taken.
Here, the DOJ is relying on a 2017 defense appropriations bill for the statutory authority necessitated by the act. The Trump administration has consistently broadcast their intent and argued their authority to reallocate traditional military funds for the purpose of constructing the 45th president’s long-promised wall on the U.S.-Mexico border due to Congress generally refusing to directly fund the project.
The lawsuit also describes the intent of the proposed seizure: “The public purpose for which said property is taken is to construct, install, operate, and maintain roads, fencing, vehicle barriers, security lighting, cameras, sensors, and related structures designed to help secure the United States/Mexico border within the State of Texas.”
Also contained are the necessary land descriptions and maps of the property the government is trying to claim for its own.
The “just compensation” outlined in the proposal looks to be a decided bargain for the federal government. For the nearly 6,000 acre plat, the DOJ is suggesting the landowners are only entitled to $113,202. That equates to roughly $19.08 per acre.
The average market value of rural acreage in Texas is just shy of $3,000 per acre, according to Texas A&M University’s Real Estate Center. The government clearly believes they are entitled to an exponential discount on the would-be land grab.
Assistant United States Attorney Manuel Muniz Lorenzi signed the lawsuit on behalf of U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Ryan K. Patrick.
Perhaps curiously, or perhaps not, complaints in condemnation generally contain a jury demand instruction. Patrick’s filing on behalf of DHS, however, expressly disclaims that typical request.
[image via Joe Raedle/Getty Images]
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