City officials in Laredo are in between what could be called a wall and a hard place. At issue is a large piece of city-owned land, a total of 934 acres in Starr County. It’s land for which Congress this year set money aside, for building more border fencing. The feds want the right to enter the property in order to do some land surveying and testing for a future wall. The Laredo City Council isn’t sure they want to grant that access, but what happens if they don’t?
Julia Wallace is a city and county government reporter for the Laredo Morning Times who has been following this conflict. Wallace says a representative of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas came to the Laredo City Council asking for access to the land on September 17. She says the debate over whether to allow the federal government to build this wall on the property began over a year ago and local officials had already made up their minds.
“I have yet to hear any local officials here say they are pro-border wall,” Wallace says.
Wallace says the Laredo City Council’s recent vote concerned the U.S. government’s right to enter the property in order to conduct surveys and other necessary steps needed to develop the land for construction of a border wall or fence. She says the vote had nothing to do with the construction of the fence. She says the City Council may have a limited time to make a decision before the federal government takes action.
“It sounds like if they don’t, the federal government will go ahead and file a right of taking in the courts in the first place,” Wallace says. “Even if they don’t take a vote again, I think the U.S. government will be moving forward.”
The city, Wallace says, has been advised not to fight the issue in its beginning stages, but once construction has begun. She says this advice was given by the Deputy Civil Chief for the U.S. Attorney’s office. Wallace says fighting the issue now, as opposed to simply not granting entry, may end up being costly for the city.
“I’ve talked to Councilwoman Nelly Vielma, who is the one who voted against the motion not to grant them the right of entry,” Wallace said. “She said the reason she did that is because she didn’t want to waste taxpayer money on fighting something that a federal judge is probably going to end up granting the government, regardless.”
Wallace says the City of Laredo is focused on the optics, the appearance, of land owned by the city having a portion of border wall built on it. She says they are accounting for the public and the cost of fighting the issue, not just the city as a landowner.
Written by Brooke Sjoberg.