Lawsuits Begin, As Landowners Take ‘The Wall’ To Court

Lawsuits Begin, As Landowners Take ‘The Wall’ To Court


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Janet Ybarra
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press

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The controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s long-desired wall–and the disputed “state of emergency” which he is using to finance its construction–is rising as landowners in the area of the intended barrier have begun fighting back.

And impacted landowners like them in the region have the support of a Texas Republican member of Congress who represents hundreds of miles of US border with Mexico.

Public Citizen, a Washington DC-based advocacy organization, announced that it has filed a lawsuit in US District Court in the District of Columbia on behalf of a non-profit nature preserve and three landowners in South Texas, who were told that the federal government intends to construct Trump’s border wall on their property if funds are available in 2019.

In a tweet, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) says that he backs lawsuits against Trump, like that filed by Public Citizen.

“They’re going to sue because, in the great state of Texas, we care about a little thing called ‘private property rights.'”

Trump, at the White House, invoked a 1976 law–the National Emergencies Act–to bypass funding provided by Congress in order to access military funding to secure the funding he wants to build his wall.

Public Citizen’s complaint urges the court to find that Trump exceeded his constitutional authority and authority under the National Emergencies Act, and to hold that the declaration violates the separation of powers doctrine of the Constitution. The court should bar Trump and the Department of Defense from using the declaration and funds appropriated for other purposes to build a border wall, the complaint requests.

The national emergency declaration, signed by Trump Friday, is intended to allow the administration to transfer funds appropriated by Congress for military construction to the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border – a wall promised by Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Words have meaning,” says Allison Zieve, Public Citizen’s attorney for the plaintiffs. “The facts make clear that the premise of the president’s declaration – that the absence of a wall in the areas where construction is planned is an ‘emergency’ – is legally untenable and an impermissible basis for seeking to obligate funds that Congress has refused to appropriate for a border wall.”

Trump also said in a press conference announcing the declaration that he “didn’t need to” invoke emergency power to build a wall, but that he “wanted to do it faster.”

Construction of the border wall and an accompanying enforcement zone would destroy a significant portion of the small amount of remaining habitat along the Rio Grande river, Public Citizen alleges.

The Frontera Audubon Society is headquartered on a 15-acre nature preserve in Weslaco, Texas, in the Rio Grande valley. The nonprofit is dedicated to preserving wildlife and the native habitat of the Rio Grande valley – one of the most biologically diverse regions in North America, according to Public Citizen. The valley is a major migration corridor and provides more than three-quarters of America’s bird species with migratory, nesting and feeding habitat, the organization adds.

In addition to the Frontera Audubon Society, the plaintiffs in the suit are:

  • Nayda Alvarez, a Starr County resident whose home is about 200 feet from the Rio Grande River and just feet away from where the wall would be built. Her lot is adjacent to an approximately six-acre tract of land bordering the river that has been in her family for at least five generations. The suit says that she would be cut off from the portion of her property south of the wall and would lose the use of almost her entire backyard; 
  • Leonel Romeo Alvarez, a Starr County resident whose home is on an approximately one acre lot adjacent to an approximately six-acre tract of land bordering the Rio Grande river that has been in his family for at least five generations. The suit says he would be cut off from his family’s property south of the wall; and
  • Yvette Gaytan, a Starr County resident who would lose access to her property south of the wall, according to the lawsuit. The proposed border wall would pass through her property or her family’s property immediately south of her lot.

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