As the Trump administration winds down, it’s making last-minute efforts to secure land for border-wall construction in South Texas.
In Laredo, in particular, there’s been a flurry of legal activity lately, says Texas Monthly Senior Editor Peter Holley. He told Texas Standard that the Trump administration has sent extra U.S. attorneys to Laredo to try to secure private land for wall construction from landowners who’ve sued to prevent that from happening. It’s a fight “down to the wire” he says, since President-elect Joe Biden takes office in less than two months.
And the Trump administration’s efforts would be a success even if no more wall construction takes place, but more land is secured, while Trump is still in office. That’s because billions of dollars in federal contracts have already been awarded to companies for future wall construction.
“And once your land, if you’re a landowner, is in federal hands, it’s just an inevitability that … a wall will be built there,” Holley said. “So really, the fight right now is to keep land from falling into government hands. But the administration is making a really strong push to to confiscate people’s land.”
In Laredo, Holley says landowners have been able to keep that from happening for the time being because of lawsuits against the government. But landowners further south along the border have been less successful; portions of the wall are already being built there.
Even if the administration does seize the land in Laredo, Holley says it’s unclear what Biden would do with it. In the past, he’s promised not to build any wall, but he would still have to sort out the billions in promised contracts.
“Will Biden be willing to compensate those contractors or is he going to do what the Obama administration did, which was allow contractors to play out their work?” Holley said.
Whatever happens with the land, the wall issue might take a back seat to the pandemic, and other pressing matters, once Biden takes office, Holley says.
In the meantime, landowners are trying to hold on “until the end” Holley says, but it’s costing them.
“They’re racking up court costs and they’re battling U.S. attorneys who are, you know, pretty aggressive at this point,” he said.