WASHINGTON - The Democratic staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today issued a report detailing the Administration’s lack of information on costs or timeline for land seizure necessary for a proposed border wall and illustrating previous challenges to federal land acquisition efforts. The report references documents and briefings provided by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and personal accounts from landowners along the southern border.
The report’s key findings include:
- Despite the Administration’s request for an initial down payment of $1.6 billion to pay for 74 miles of wall construction and replacement fencing in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, the Administration cannot provide the Committee with any definitive real estate costs or requirements, cannot tell the Committee how many American citizens will have their land seized, and has no timeline for completing land acquisition efforts necessary to build the wall that President Trump has ordered. During a briefing to Committee staff, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official said that land acquisition posed an ongoing challenge and that title research may “never be finalized.”
- While CBP informed the Committee that it expects land acquisition associated with the border wall proposal to take 12 to 24 months to complete, historically it has taken much longer and has been much more costly than expected. Approximately 90 lawsuits related to land seizure along the border, most of which were filed in 2008 and 2009, are still pending.
- The Administration is continuing to move forward with border wall plans. In July, CBP announced it would work with the Army Corps of Engineers on land acquisition efforts by immediately conducting in-person reviews of property records at county courthouses in South Texas. Earlier this year, the Administration requested nearly $2 million to hire additional attorneys at the Department of Justice to assist with land acquisition for the wall as part of its FY 2018 budget.
The report also details the experiences of Texas landowners from whom the government acquired land for existing border barriers. Sergio Garcia, for example, shared with the Committee that, while the government seized land from his family worth approximately $1,000 nearly 10 years ago, his family still has not been compensated for the taking. Another landowner, Ray Loop, lived for years in a house trapped on the south side of the government’s 18-foot border fence, in what he described as “No Man’s Land.” His house was destroyed in a fire and Loop said he was told that firefighters were slow to respond to the blaze because the fence blocked their entry.
“The personal experiences of Ray Loop, Sergio Garcia [and others], complications with previous fence deployment efforts, and planned staffing increases at the Department of Justice and CBP illustrate a point that DHS itself has made: ‘Real estate acquisition for border fence construction is a very complex issue, particularly in Texas,’” states the report. “Before spending billions of taxpayer dollars on the construction of a wall along the southwest border, CBP, DHS, and the President have an obligation to Congress – and to the American people – to address questions related to land acquisition that, to date, remain unanswered.”
The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Democratic staff report, led by the staff of Ranking Member Claire McCaskill, is available online HERE.