September 13, 2019

NM Senators welcome investigation into admin’s use of eminent domain for border wall

dawn paley

The U.S.-Mexico border wall, from the Mexican side,. (Flickr/cc

New Mexico’s U.S. Senators said an internal government watchdog will provide answers about how the Trump administration seized land to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico.

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee blocked an amendment one of those Senators, Tom Udall, introduced to the defense funding bill that would bar Trump from diverting money from military projects to fund the wall.

In August, Udall and New Mexico’s other Senator, Martin Heinrich, signed onto a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois asking for an investigation into the use of eminent domain to take land for the border wall. All four senators are Democrats.

GAO wrote to the four Senators last week saying they would begin the review the Trump administration’s eminent domain efforts. 

“At the current time we anticipate that staff with the required skills will be available to initiate an engagement in about three months,” the GAO official wrote.

Udall and Heinrich both welcomed the GAO investigation.

“Not only is the Trump administration stealing funds from critical military projects to pay for the wall, they’re also pushing to take away people’s private land often with little to no compensation — with the president reportedly ordering officials to ‘take the land’ and ‘don’t worry’ about the law because ‘I’ll pardon you,’” Udall said. “Under this administration’s thoughtless and potentially lawless land grab, homes could be confiscated, farms and livelihoods ruined, neighbors cut off from one another, Tribal sovereignty upended, and endangered species and habitat lost forever.”

The Washington Post reported in August that officials in Trump’s administration said Trump pushed for them to seize land for the border wall’s construction.

“He said people expected him to build a wall, and it had to be done by the election,” a former official told the paper.

A White House official told the paper, anonymously, that Trump was joking.

“Any efforts by the Trump Administration to use eminent domain must take into account the rights of landowners and provide just compensation for any seizure of private property,” Heinrich said. “These property owners deserve transparency and the Administration needs to be held accountable for its actions.”

Earlier this year, Udall and Heinrich also introduced legislation to require the federal government to fully pay owners for any land taken for border infrastructure, including a border wall. The legislation would also require consultation from stakeholders, including tribes, for any state land acquired.

That legislation has very little chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate.

Udall’s amendment on border wall funds also failed this week.

“As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I’ll keep fighting for these kinds of investments that are good for service members and good for our economy, but we need to protect the national security funding in this bill from being diverted to the president’s pet project,” Udall said. “I’m disappointed that Senate Republicans blocked our amendment to protect DOD funding in committee today, and I do not support advancing this otherwise good bill until that serious defect is resolved.”

The administration moved $125 million in projects from Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range. In all, Trump diverted $3.6 billion from 127 military projects to fund the border wall.