The National Butterfly Center is suing the Trump administration over its plan to build a wall along the southern U.S. border. The dispute began when the center received a surprise visit from a work crew contracted by the Department of Homeland Security. Without providing any notice, DHS authorized the crew to tear down the center’s trees and specially planted butterfly habitats to clear the way for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The barrier would place 70 percent of the center’s land behind the wall, effectively cutting off the visitor center from the rest of the 100-acre nature sanctuary.
With border wall construction taking place in one of the best places to see 100 different species of butterflies, nature enthusiasts are right to be concerned. But according to Jeffrey Glassberg, the Butterfly Center’s founder, this issue should alarm anybody who values property rights or the rule of law. “They’ve decided to just ignore the law, trampling on private property rights,” Glassberg remarked. “The complete disrespect for the legalities of this country is something that ought to concern every American regardless of how they feel about a border wall,” he added.
Glassberg is right. Trump’s wall threatens the property rights of thousands of landowners whose homes are located along the southern border.
Pamela Taylor, 88, of Brownsville, Texas, is one such person. Taylor is already irritated about the giant border fence near her house, referring to it as a “useless piece of crap.” But extending the barricade would mean that Taylor’s land might be confiscated through eminent domain. She voted for Trump, but says she would take the administration to court if her property were seized.
Joseph Hein of Laredo, Texas joins Taylor in her concerns. Hein owns a ranch along the border that has been in his family for 100 years. “I would fight this” said Hein. “A lot of us would fight.”
The last time the government seized privately-owned land in the name of border security was when Congress passed the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which authorized construction of 670 miles of fencing along the southern border. This placed many American homes behind an 18-foot-high barricade. The residents of those homes are required to enter a code every time they cross the fence.
The Loop family’s entire 350-acre farm is on the southern side of the fence. One night, the Loops awoke to find their farm on fire. They immediately evacuated their home and called 911, but the fence blocked the fire department from getting to the farm in time. By the time they arrived, the family had already witnessed their pets die in the fire. “We all stood in the yard and had to listen to their cries, burning alive,” said D’Ann Loop. “We had a little miniature goat, he was on fire and he was running out of the structure screaming.” Along with their goat, the Loop family lost six dogs, four dozen baby chicks, a cat, and a guinea pig that night. The Loop’s home was reduced to a concrete slab.
But the fence was causing the Loops problems even before the fire. Their property value plummeted, the bank denied them loans, and the lock to the fence would only work one-third of the time. The government tried shortchanging the family by paying them $10,100 for their land, but they hired a lawyer and spent years in court fighting for just compensation. Finally, a judge awarded the family $1.4 million, but after the attorney fees and splitting the settlement with another family member, the Loops only walked away with $640,000.
More than 300 other property owners have joined the Loops in taking the government to court. On average, it took three and a half years for each case to be resolved, with the median settlement being just $12,600. Although the Secure Fence Act passed in 2006, one-third of the eminent domain cases arising from the law have yet to be resolved. These were the results after installing 670 miles of fencing. Trump hopes to double that mileage with his wall––imagine what those results would look like.
Sam Peak (@Tiger_Speak) is an advocate for Young Voices living in Alexandria, Va.
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