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The Border is a Rural Issue

Trump's border wall isn't just a political stunt. It's an unreasonable federal government seizure of private property that will hurt rural property owners along the US/Mexico border for years to come.

Less than one-third of the needed land for Trump's border wall is currently owned by the federal government. The rest — as much as 1,300 miles — is held by private owners, Native American tribes and state governments.

Texas families in the Rio Grande Valley, who have owned their land for generations, are already dealing with a legal fight over the 33 miles of border wall and fencing authorized by Congress in March that required seizures of land.

But if Trump is allowed to proceed, more families will find themselves losing their property to government land seizures.

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution states, “No person shall be deprived of … property, without due process of law.” This provision, known as the Takings Clause, protects citizens from unreasonable government seizure of private property.

However, Trump is attempting to skirt these constitutional protections using his powers as commander and chief and as reporter, Stephanie Mencimer, recently wrote:

Trump is a big fan of eminent domain, which he took advantage of as a real estate developer. Notably, in the early 1990s, he convinced New Jersey’s Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to use eminent domain to condemn the house of a retired woman who lived next to Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. Trump wanted to turn her house into a limo parking lot. Vera Coking, who’d lived in the house for more than 30 years, had refused to sell to Trump. She fought back, sued, and kept her house. The lawsuit didn’t dampen Trump’s enthusiasm for government land seizures, though, especially those on behalf of private developers like him.

Here at RuralOrganizing.org, our members are fighting back against Donald Trump's border wall land grab. We've collected over 30,000 petition signatures demanding that officials in the Federal Government reject the use of eminent domain to further Trump's political stunt.

We've also sent nearly 5,000 letters to the U.S. Senate asking that they oppose Trump's border wall land grab and saying that, "eminent domain should not be used for political stunts" because "the federal government should never take property from citizens for political purposes."

Rural Voices From the Border

Through all of the public debate about border security, we noticed that many voices, especially rural voices, from border communities have been left out of the conversation. So, we asked our members who live in border communities to tell us what they think about Trump's "national emergency."

What we heard from those who live along the US/Mexico border is that people from the border know their communities better than politicians in Washington, DC and they see the Republican rhetoric about the border as "insulting” and “frustrating to hear such falsehoods.

Debby from a small Arizona town ten miles from the border told us, “Frankly, many of us see it [the border wall] as a giant boondoggle and a political ploy (to divert attention from the corruption in our government and further divide the populace).”

She went on to say, “Personally, I’d much rather see funds go to new and refurbished schools, clinics, and decent housing than a wall. Those things would benefit everyone, including our own vets, homeless citizens and those living in poverty, as well as the new-comers.”

Tina, who lives in the San Diego area said, “Please stop this unnecessary expense of building a barrier when the money could better benefit those citizens without shelter and adequate food resources instead.”

Many pointed to the fact that the landscape and terrain in their communities is impossible to cross and that a border wall would be obsolete or ineffective. 

Debby in Arizona told us. “They have yet to come up with a prototype that could be erected in this sort of terrain.

Other members of our network, like Carol Ann, expressed concern with the fact that private property owners would lose their land. She told us, “I live in Coronado, CA., and believe there is no emergency… We do not need a wall and have no right to use eminent domain to steal people's property."

Nancy in San Diego said, “The land that will have to be confiscated (eminent domain) and the environmental impact will hurt many Americans.”

William from Texas, who lives "30 minutes" from the border told us, “The centuries old, one room, La Lomita mission which the town I grew up in is named for would lose some of its land. He also said, “Senators in Washington, namely those that do not represent border states, and the Trump parroting Ted Cruz who only follows Trump's agenda and does not listen to the people of this area have no business making decisions for this area.”

Others expressed concern for how their communities were being represented by politicians and wanted to make sure we corrected the record.

Cecilia who lives in El Paso,TX told us, “There is no border emergency here that impacts my family. It has always been a great, safe place to live here. We raised 3 children and now we have 2 grandchildren that are being raised here too!”

Brian from the San Diego area said, “I've lived in South Bay San Diego for over 20 years, and I've seen nothing like Trump has described when he lies on television. It's insulting and frustrating to hear such falsehoods.”

Tina who lives "10 minutes from the border" in the San Diego area said, I do not see any evidence of a national emergency from my community...  I do see families and workers who regularly go back and forth across the border being impacted by unnecessary delays at the border crossing.”

Tina works with families of seriously ill and dying patients and said they experience "even greater difficulty crossing the border in emergencies to be with their loved ones.”

Many of those who responded to our request for feedback acknowledged the need to upgrade our borders but felt a wall is the wrong investment

Debby from rural Arizona said, “It would be infinitely more advantageous to spend a fraction of the money a wall would ultimately cost to instead upgrade our systems of dealing with immigration fairly and judicially, and to more effectively integrating those who are already here.”

She also said, “The bottom line is, we need a better immigration policy so they don’t need to sneak across, and then we could keep better tabs on them, too.”

How We Modernize Our Border

We need to make sure the border security debate here in the United States is actually about controlling our border--not about politics or profits for contractors. 

And in order to modernize our borders, we need to:

  1. End "blank checks" to private contractors and government agencies and focus on programs that actually make us more safe
  2. Upgrade our ports of entry and end cartel trafficking of illegal drugs
  3. Ensure that credible asylum claims are processed quickly and humanely

The Department of Homeland Security says the southern border is more secure than it has been in 40 years, and that’s largely because the federal government has spent an estimated $263 billion on immigration enforcement since the last major overhaul of the U.S. immigration system in 1986 and because the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents has nearly doubled over the last 15 years.

So if all this taxpayer money spent over the last 30 years hasn't already fully secured the border, we need to know what will actually solve the remaining issues. 

Surprisingly, we don't have good data on the effectiveness of our border security investments because politicians tend to focus on inputs like amount of funding, the number of agents deployed, number of detention beds, or miles of fencing.

We think the conversation should be focused on outcomes which is why we support border security investments based on measures that hold government officials and private contractors accountable for tax payer funder initiatives and ensure they actually make us all more safe.

And the little metrics that we do have show that tax payer dollars is best spent at ports of entries. There are 44 official land border crossings and, according to the DEA, these ports of entry are where most illegal drugs cross the border.

However, the ports have a severe staffing shortage of about 4,000 CBP officers, and unmet infrastructure needs totaling nearly $5 billion. As a result, custom officials struggle to keep up with the cartels.

But it's also important to remember that about 40 percent of apprehended migrants at the border are children and entire families fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and seeking asylum in the United States.

And because we haven't modernize our borders to reflect this new reality, our immigration enforcement surge has had significant unintended consequences. For example, according to U.S. Border Patrol statistics, the Southwest border witnesses approximately one death per day. And we all saw the horrific tragedy that resulted from the recent family separation crisis created by the Trump Administration’s “Zero Tolerance Policy.”

We need to spend our money processing these families humanely and quickly. The backlog of cases in the immigration court system is truly unbelievable. Even asylum cases that result in a removal order are now taking more than 500 days to process. More judges are badly needed to reduce caseloads and wait times.

We believe addressing these concerns will actually make our communities more safe, are a border wall will only serve the political interests of Donald Trump.

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