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To Build the Wall, Trump Might Make Thousands of Americans Suffer

January 19, 2019 in Economics

By Ilya Somin

Ilya Somin

In his speech on
Saturday
, President Trump reiterated his determination to build
his border wall. Much of the debate over this issue focuses on
whether Trump can get the funding he wants.

But even if congressional Democrats agree to give him the funds
in exchange for concessions on other immigration issues, that would
be only the beginning of the drama over the wall. Trump cannot
acquire the land he needs without forcibly displacing large numbers
of property owners by using eminent domain. That inevitably
threatens the property rights of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of
Americans.

Less than one-third
of the needed land is currently owned by the federal government.
The rest — as much as 1,300 miles — is held by private
owners, Native American tribes and state governments, many of whom
are unlikely to sell voluntarily. Even if the wall does not cover
the full 2,000 miles because it excludes some areas, such as those
that have “natural” barriers, many property owners will
have to be displaced. There is no way to build an extensive
continuous wall without that.

Trump cannot acquire the
land he needs without forcibly displacing large numbers of property
owners by using eminent domain. That inevitably threatens the
property rights of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of
Americans.

To get that land, the government would have to resort to eminent
domain: a power that allows the state to seize property from
unwilling owners. The result would be one of the largest federal
condemnations in modern U.S. history. In Texas alone, there are
some 4,900 parcels of privately owned land
within 500 feet of
the probable route of the wall. In Arizona, some 62 miles of the
route is owned by the Tohono O’odham Nation, which opposes the wall
because it would damage the tribe’s land and impede ties with
members across the border. No one knows exactly how many homes,
businesses and tribal properties would have to be condemned. But it
is likely that thousands of people would suffer.

Under Supreme Court precedent, owners of condemned property are
entitled to “fair market value” compensation: roughly,
the price the land would go for if sold on the open market. But
studies show that owners often don’t get the compensation
that the law requires. That is particularly true of those who are
poor or lack legal sophistication. Government officials often
shortchange such people by using pressure tactics to get them to
sell at below-market prices.

Such abuses were common in takings for previous, much smaller
border barriers. A 2017 investigation conducted by ProPublica and
the Texas Tribune <a target=_blank href="https://features.propublica.org/eminent-domain-and-the-wall/the-taking-texas-government-property-seizure/" title="features.propublica.org" …read more

Source: OP-EDS