We trust Department of Homeland Security and other federal officials will think twice about heeding President Trump’s call to forgo normal procedures and start taking homeowners’ property to build the border wall.
Trump recently announced that he wanted officials to begin invoking the government’s power of eminent domain and begin seizing private property so that work could start on the wall. He promised full pardons for anyone whose actions would bring prosecution for violating the Constitution or violating Americans’ civil rights.
The Independent Government Accountability Office on Sept. 5 sent a letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer that it would investigate the border wall issue based on Trump’s request.
The president’s obvious frustration is understandable, as little progress has been made on his primary campaign promise with little more than a year before the next presidential election.
However, he might not understand the delicate and complicated procedures that are involved in eminent domain, nor the time the process requires. No matter how much effort the administration puts into the land seizures, the matter won’t be resolved within a year.
Eminent domain is the taking of private land for public use. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution requires that “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”
Simply put, the government must offer compensation to the landowners. If the owners don’t want to sell, then a legal process begins under which courts decide if the government’s intended use justifies the seizure of the property and the compensation is adequate.
We can expect courts to impose injunctions preventing seizures until this process plays out — the president can’t simply ignore the Constitution, which he is sworn to uphold and defend.
Border barriers have been erected on the U.S.-Mexican border since September 1993, when Operation Blockade/Hold the Line was initiated in El Paso. Much of the proposed line for the border wall, especially in the Rio Grande Valley, already is in litigation after the government’s previous attempts to build portions of the current metal fencing.
No matter how frustrating it might be for the president, he’s simply going to have to let the issue play out. Fortunately for him, efforts to acquire some of the property precede him; otherwise he might have to weight even longer.
At this point, it probably doesn’t matter whether or not construction on the wall has begun by the time voters go to the polls next year. The issue isn’t likely to change anyone’s votes; those who support the wall will continue to support the president and will trust him to keep his promise whenever he can. Those who oppose it probably have other reasons to cast their votes for someone else.
Trump, then, is best advised to allow the process to play out the right way, even if actual construction isn’t likely to begin anytime soon.