If you own land in the Rio Grande Valley, you may be in for some complicated legal tangles with the federal government. NBC News recently reported that letters of rights of entry have already gone out from the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice to private landowners in preparation to seizing their land in order to build new sections of the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. 

Two things differentiate this proposed taking from a typical government eminent domain proceeding. First, no government officials have met with any of the affected landowners to negotiate price before going ahead with the eminent domain plan. Second, the government apparently does not intend to use normal eminent domain for this undertaking. Instead, it evidently intends to seize the land under the federal Declaration of Taking Act. 

The DTA amounts to an emergency proclamation whereby title to affected land more or less automatically passes to the government without the need for prior price negotiations with the landowners. Once President Trump declared the border situation a national emergency on February 15, 2019, the DTA became available to administration officials. 

Per the letters of right of entry, government officials will enter the private lands unannounced to do the following: 

  • Survey the land 
  • Test the soil 
  • Assess the property 

If the government succeeds in this DTA land grab, property owners will not get the due process they would receive if this were a normal eminent domain procedure. For all practical purposes, the government would simply seize the land it needs to construct 450 miles of new border wall, telling the landowners afterward how much the government will pay for this confiscated land.