The Rio Grande Valley, an area located in the southernmost tip of South Texas, is seeing increased signs that a border wall or fence is imminent: heavy machinery gathering near the Rio Grande, wooded areas being cleared, and residents receiving letters from the government asking to survey their property and possibly seize it through eminent domain.
Gary Jacobs, a former chief executive officer of Laredo National Bank, had an in-depth conversation with Bloomberg about President Trump’s border wall could trigger a massive backlash from Texan landowners.
Texas, a state where Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 9% in the 2016 presidential election, shows the political complexity at play.
After Trump declared a national emergency last week to access billions of dollars in funding, some landowners in Texas fear that the Trump administration could seize their land.
“The way the eminent domain laws are written, we have no rights,” warns Jacobs. “That’s the issue. It’s not what they’re going to build. It’s how they’re taking the land.”
Not long after Trump invoked the National Emergencies Act, the Legal advocacy group Public Citizen filed suit on behalf of landowners in Texas.
Public Citizen is claiming Trump exceeded his authority under the federal National Emergencies Act because there is no crisis at the border, and that a declaration of a national emergency to build the wall violates the separation of powers, more or less, it is unconstitutional for Trump to declare an emergency because Congress already declined to appropriate the money.
Bloomberg said property seizure laws established in the 1800s leave Texan landowners with limited options.
Texans have had a rough history of the government claiming eminent domain for highways, and oil companies have used it to lay pipelines through private property.
“Philosophically, that’s abhorrent to me,” says Jacobs, 77, who considers himself a Republican at heart but has voted for Democrats in the past.
Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston, warns if Texans see about 20 eminent domain filings relating to the wall, it would then be enough to trigger a possible collapse in support of Trump’s wall among the state’s Republicans.
“Just as Texas Republicans are very supportive of having a strong level of border security, they also are very supportive of property rights,” he said.
While Jacobs condemns Trump’s wall, he makes it clear to Bloomberg that he advocates for stricter enforcement of immigration laws and supports the Border Patrol.
This is the same sentiment shared by Mauricio Vidaurri, whose family’s ranch along the Rio Grande dates back to 1750.
Vidaurri said the real problem on the border is “the feral hogs.”
He works for the US Customs and Border Protection and has somewhat of an inside take on the border issues, advocates for stricter immigration laws.
He says the wall threatens to divide the earth that contains his family past.
He expects the government to send a letter any day saying he must give up his land for a border wall.
“It’s cruel, man. It’s just cruel,’’ he says. “I’m really, really scared that they’re going to take my land.’’
With more than 1,000 Texas landowners at risk of the Trump administration seizing their land for the border wall, the private property debate in Texas is undoubtedly going to be a significant topic in the 2020 election, one which could impact Trump’s vote in the Lone Star State.