Don't fence me in with eminent domain

"Even in the most egregious eminent domain cases, the party whose land is being taken is given his or her day in court. The people of Texas should be outraged by the sneaky, underhanded methods used by the Department of Homeland Security....Informing the city after the judge ruled that their land is already taken is not the Texan or American way of justice." -- Monica Weisberg-Stewart, co-chair of the Texas Border Coalition Immigration Committee, Caller Times

The line most-quoted in Robert Frost's poem Mending Wall reads, "Good fences make good neighbors." But it is the first line that speaks from the deep heart's core and tells us, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall."  Something indeed. History demonstrates that border walls and fences for the most part don’t work. The Berlin Wall came down when the U.S.S.R. lost power during the Reagan administration. The Great Wall of China did not keep out the Mongolian hordes. This week we have seen the Israeli wall around Gaza and along the Egyptian border breached by Hamas, through a few well-placed land mines, in order to allow Palestinans access to much needed supplies. According to the Associated Press, Egypt has not yet indicated how it plans to reseal the border, though it began positioning armored vehicles Thursday along sections of the breached, seven-mile frontier.

Onward to the vast Mexican-U.S. border: President Bush and Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff are committed to build 370 miles of the proposed 670-mile border fence through Texas, California, and Arizona by the end of 2008. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act of 2006 in October 2006, giving the Secretary of Homeland Security 18 months to achieve and maintain operational control over the borders of the United States. The act also provides for the construction of fencing and security improvements along the border area from the Pacific Ocean to the Gult of Mexico. There was an amendment to the act (inserted into a $555 billion spending bill signed into law the day after Christmas 2007 by President Bush). As reported in the Houston Chronicle on January 12, the measure repealed parts of the 2006 law.  But Senator Kay Hutchinson, who was accused by two congressmen of repealing the mandate to build the fence, said the new law, SA 2466, requires govenment to consult with landowners and elected officials as it moves to build 130 miles of fence in Texas.

However, the government will use eminent domain against property owners opposing acquisition and use of their land for this purpose. Municipalities and property owners affected by the fence question the efficacy of the proposed fence and the cost. As reported in the Rio Grande Guardian yesterday, Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas said, "The fence will not work, so why squander away taxpayer's dollars? I think we have to think about comprehensive immigration reform legislation and think about the guest worker program as alternatives to the wall."

According to the Guardian, Salinas was referring to the recent lawsuit where the the federal government won its lawsuit against the city of Eagle Pass to gain access to city-owned land. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Alia Moses Ludlom ordered the city of Eagle Pass, located on the Texas border 100 miles southwest of San Antonio to surrender 233 acres of municipal land. “It seems a little heavy handed,” said Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, who also heads The Texas Border Coalition. The group of mayors, city officials, and business leaders have complained they had not had enough time and opportunity to comment regarding the effect of the fence on their communities, according to a report issued on January 16 by the Associated Press. Instead, Eagle Pass was sued for access to municipal land and blindsided when the judge's ruling was decided within hours on the very same day, before the city could challenge the lawsuit. "Giving the other side notice sounds pretty basic to me. The government is not even following what our justice system asks for," said San Juan Mayor Juanita Sanchez.

Eagle Pass has close ties to towns on the Mexican side of the border. According to the Austin Chronicle, there are sensitive environmental areas where the fence will be located. Apache land owners also oppose the fence. Calling the wall "militarization," Enrique Madrid, a member of the Jurnano Apache community, said, "There are two kinds of people in this world, those who build walls and those who build bridges."  According to an article in the Atlantic Free Press, "the government's demands and aggressive tactics are in conflict with settled rights of private property ownership and are particularly disconcerting to the Indigenous peoples' communities impacted by this undertaking."

As reported in the Nogales International, Doris Meissner, senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. said, "The eminent domain lawsuits are a clear indicator of what has changed in the immigration reform debate."  Exactly what does DHS gain from the eminent domain lawsuits? Access to the properties for up to 6 months and  the right to remove structures in the way of surveyors and engineers. In addition, each landowner, according to the Nogales report, will receive $100 and be reimbursed for any damage to the property.

There should be soundtrack to this story. It's a tune by Cole Porter with original lyrics by Bob Fletcher, an engineer who worked for Montana's Department of Highways. The chorus goes like this:

Oh, give me land, lots of land
Under starry skies above.
Don't Fence Me In.
Let me ride through the wide open
Country that I love.
Don't Fence Me In.