Within the last six months, as the coronavirus pandemic gripped the US, the Trump administration filed 75 lawsuits to seize private land along the US-Mexico border for the border wall, according to data reviewed by CNN from the Texas Civil Rights Project.
In the final days of the presidential election, President Donald Trump, along with senior administration officials, have cited the border wall as a cornerstone accomplishment of his first term.
“Under my leadership, we achieved the most secure border in US history,” Trump said at a rally in Arizona Wednesday. “We built almost 400 miles.”
But on the other side of that effort is thousands of Texas residents juggling legal challenges and the pandemic.
“People right now are having to choose between their health and their homes,” said Ricky Garza, a staff attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project, a legal advocacy group, which is currently representing landowners in eight land seizure cases.
Between May and October 22, 75 lawsuits to take private land were filed in Texas, up from 17 lawsuits around the same period last year, according to data based on court filings. A US official confirmed to CNN that the administration has been moving at a faster rate to obtain private land to meet the White House’s goal.
Generally, the government is allowed to acquire privately owned land for public use, otherwise known as eminent domain. Border barriers built under previous administrations have largely gone up in areas where land was federally owned, but extending the wall, as Trump pledged to, requires taking privately owned land.
The spike in so-called eminent domain lawsuits has been a trend under this administration, as the President tries to hit 450 miles by year’s end.
The Rio Grande Valley, where land is largely privately owned and therefore an epicenter of eminent domain cases, has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. Texas, as a whole,