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Rep. O’Rourke and Rep. Gallego Introduce Legislation To Protect Landowners from Trump’s Wall

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For a recording of today’s call, click here.

WASHINGTON – Representatives Beto O’Rourke (TX-16) and Ruben Gallego (AZ-07) held a press call this afternoon to discuss the details of their new legislation that would prevent the Trump-Pence Administration from poaching private land in order to build their irrational and illogical wall. The Protecting the Property Rights of Border Landowners Act (H.R. 3943) would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to prohibit the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General from using eminent domain to acquire land for the purpose of constructing a wall, or other physical barrier, along the international border between the U.S. and Mexico.

For a recording of today’s call, click here. 

The Reps. were joined on the call by the Executive Director of the National Butterfly Center Marianna Trevino-Wright, Efren Olivares of the Texas Civil Rights Project, and the Director of America’s Voice: Texas – all of whom uniquely understand the dangers of stealing privately owned land to build a wall that 65% of Americans oppose the construction of. Two-thirds of the land along the border is private or state-owned. Most of that falls within Texas.

While failing to take the property rights of private citizens into consideration, the Trump-Pence Administration has not hesitated in their scheme to wall off the country’s southern border at a time when illegal northern crossings are down, the number of immigrants living illegally in the U.S. has not increased in years and the border has never been safer or more secure. In July, the DHS said that the Army Corps of Engineers had begun preparations for the construction of a wall in several places along the border including El Paso. Additionally, the president requested funding to double the number of DOJ attorneys who work in land acquisition. And construction on the eight wall prototypes began last Tuesday with President Trump saying he would pick the border wall design himself. This has all occurred while 91 eminent domain condemnation cases remain open from ten years ago – the last time the government seized land for a wall.

In July, Reps. O’Rourke and Gallego opposed the inclusion of $1.6 billion to start building President Trump’s border wall – a mere down payment on total construction costs that are estimated to be over $20 billion. Taxpayers are already spending $19.5 billion a year on border security – 10 times more than we did 25 years ago. On top of that, the U.S. government has already spent $78 million compensating private landowners for 600 tracts of property during the construction of the existing fence. Regardless of what the president chooses to believe, Mexico has made it clear that they will not be paying for the wall. Representatives O’Rourke and Gallego agree that private landowners should not be expected to either.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke (TX-16), said, “We do not need a 2,000 mile, 30-foot high wall separating us from Mexico. And if the Trump administration moves forward with the construction of this wall, it will be built not on the international boundary line but in the U.S. – much of it on private property in the state of Texas. That’s why we’ve joined with a majority of those who represent a district on the border to introduce this legislation that will protect landowners in El Paso, across Texas and throughout our country.”

Rep. Ruben Gallego (AZ-07), said, “Donald Trump’s wall is a pointless, stupid, divisive, and outrageously expensive boondoggle.  We now know that in order to build it,  the federal government will need to seize the property of ordinary Americans – in many cases, against their will.  That’s why we are introducing this critical legislation.  The prospect of the Trump administration fighting families in court for their own land should alarm every American.  It’s time for Congress to step up and protect border communities.”

Marianna Trevino-Wright, Executive Director of the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, said, “The North American Butterfly Association selected the location and land for the National Butterfly Center with great care, fifteen years ago. Throughout this time, we have cooperated with agents of the Department of Homeland Security Customs & Border Protection by supporting and accommodating their personnel, their equipment and their mission. One cannot begin to imagine our shock and outrage at finding their contracted agents clearing vegetation, cutting down trees and altering the landscape of our property, without notice or consent. We do not believe any property owner would agree to the government taking, altering, occupying or destroying their land without due process, to which we are entitled under the Constitution. While it is a shame we have a arrived at a time in history where citizens must seek additional protection from our government, we are grateful for the assistance of Reps. O’Rourke and Gallego, who have the courage to stand on the right side of this issue.”

Dr. Jeffrey Glassberg, President of the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, said, “We have received no communication of any sort from any federal agency about any intentions they have or actions they are taking. We’ve put more that $7 million dollars into the National Butterfly Center. We take this very seriously–it’s a very special place that’s in danger of being destroyed. Tomorrow, we intend to send a letter to the U.S. government to give them a 60 day notice of our lawsuit against them.”

Efren Olivares, Racial and Economic Justice Director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said, “For almost ten years, we at Texas Civil Rights Project have seen how the federal government abused the eminent domain process and violated the rights of landowners in the Texas borderlands in the process to build the existing border fence. People were paid cents on the dollar for their land, almost in all cases without proper consultation processes and with confusing or incomplete information, at best. We are glad to see this bill introduced as a way to ensure that people in border communities are not railroaded again in the government’s obstinate pursuit of a border wall.”

Follow Frank Sharry and America’s Voice Education Fund on Twitter: @FrankSharry and @AmericasVoice

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