Border wallAs Government Prepares to Seize More Land for a Border Wall, Some Texas Landowners Prepare to Fight

By Julian Aguilar

Published 4 December 2019

In Laredo, border landowners are receiving letters from the federal government, requesting permission to enter their land for surveying. “Hell no, we’re not signing anything,” one recipient said.

When David Acevedo attended a meeting with officials from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in Webb County last month, he thought he would come away with more information about the Trump administration’s border security plans.

But Acevedo, whose family owns 180 acres of land near the Rio Grande in south Laredo, said the meeting only produced more questions about how the administration was going to move forward with plans it had for the swath of land that’s been in his family for generations.

“They didn’t tell us that they were doing a physical barrier,” he said. “They said, ‘It may be a wall, it may be that we just need lights, we’re going to put lighting up, it may be we just need a road.’”

The only thing he knew for sure was the administration wanted access to his land to conduct surveys and site samples for border security purposes. And in a letter dated Oct. 15, the government asked him to grant access for 18 months.

The government’s actions in Webb County are similar to the sporadic but hurried moves the administration is taking in the Rio Grande Valley as it fast-tracks construction of a border barrier ahead of the 2020 election. The administration moved ahead recently with construction of new barriers in the Rio Grande Valley, and NBC news reported last week that the administration is preparing court filings to seize more land in the area before the end of the month — without first telling landowners how much it will offer for their land.

It’s a familiar fight for people in the Rio Grande Valley, said Ricky Garza, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project who is urging his clients not to allow the government access to their land. He represents five Valley landowners and is in talks with another, he said last week.

A landowner is under no obligation to sign that right of entry to allow them free access to the property, but it’s in the government’s interest [to have them sign],” he said. “They don’t want the landowners to ever see the inside of a courtroom.”

Garza said most of his clients are in the early stages of the battle — fighting in court on the issue of granting the government access to survey their land. But he said there are likely more landowners who have received notices without knowing what they represent.