A legal battle is brewing on the border between civil rights attorneys and the U.S. government over the border wall. On Wednesday, a new campaign was launched to help protect property owners who could end up in the wall’s path.
Texas Civil Rights Project attorneys Efren Olivares and Emma Hilbert have announced an education and litigation campaign against the President Donald Trump's proposed border wall.
“Our main objective is to represent landowners in these eminent domain cases that are coming,” Olivares said.
Through informational videos, both in English and in Spanish, the non-profit organization is advertising free representation to the hundreds of landowners whose properties on the U.S.-Mexico border could be in the path of a future border barrier.
“That means they will have to take land from everyone. That includes small ranchers and small farmers as well as the politically powerful,” Hilbert said.
The attorneys said that if there’s anything they’ve learned representing people against the 2006 Border Fence Act, it’s that there are ways to fight.
“Many people, not knowing that they have the option to reject the offer from the government, accepted it,” Olivares explained. “They thought they had no alternative.”
And if landowners can’t come to an agreement with the government over how much they’ll be paid, Olivares says that landowners can request a jury trial.
“The jury would be composed of their neighbors,” he said.
There’s also another challenge thatmany don’t know about: cases pending in the court system dating back years.
“From 2008, about 100 of the 300 cases that were filed are still open in court today,” Hilbert noted.
That’s one reason why there are currently gaps in the fencing. The lawyers claim that the big project of erecting a barrier around the rest of the border would create a backlog nightmare for the courts.
But Olivares said that, in some cases, landowners are already settling without a court challenge.
“You can get more, it’s only fair. Even if you’re ok with the wall, you can get more money for your land,” he said.
The entire process could not only go on beyond the President Trump's term but could also cost well above the estimated $20 billion budgeted for the wall, and essentially derail the president’s plan.