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Border Wall Construction, Land Condemnation, Move Ahead Despite Biden Win

A portion of brown, bollard border fence next to scrubland.
Julia Reihs

In some cases, the federal government is suing to seize the land now and pay later, to secure it quickly in the waning days of Trump's presidency.

From Texas Standard:

Over the past few years, the federal government has seized parcels of private land along Texas' southern border to make room for President Donald Trump's promised border wall. But now, in the waning days of the Trump presidency, as some landowners reconsider their contracts, the government is ramping up lawsuits to finalize those deals and also moving quickly ahead with border wall construction.

Roberto Lopez is community outreach coordinator in South Texas for the Civil Rights Project. He told Texas Standard that the number of lawsuits shows that the government is moving quickly ahead with trying to secure the land with just weeks left in the Trump administration.

"We noticed for sure that there is definitely no slowing of suing landowners for building the border wall," he said.

The government, in some cases, has said it would use what's called a "motion for immediate possession," which would enable it to condemn the land now and pay later. One of Lopez's clients has been told by the government that that's what it intends to do.

"It is much more aggressive than the typical process and much faster," he said.

Lopez says actual border wall construction, especially in the McAllen area, is moving at a steady pace. But he says that, and the lawsuits to condemn land for future construction, could all stop fairly quickly once Joe Biden takes office in late January.

"We believe that once the president comes in, the new DOJ [Department of Justice] can ask the attorneys to sort of halt or push off these these hearings. And then at the same, the executive can also cancel the contracts, which is something that we're pushing for," Lopez said. "Just because the funds have been granted to, or set aside for these companies doesn't mean they actually have to fully go through with this."

Lopez says his organization is prepared to fight against land condemnation for border wall construction regardless of who's in the Oval Office.

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Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.