Texas RioGrande Legal Aid has been working to defend the rights of landowners who live in the path of the border wall. Their legal defense of private property rights in south Texas comes as the Department of Homeland Security, led by Secretary Chertoff, is accused of repeatedly violating laws and court orders in their aggressive attmempts to condemn land to build the wall. DHS even went so far as to initiate condemnation proceedings against one of the few south Texas landowners who wanted the border wall, and who had already agreed to sell his land. The Texas Border Coalition continues to challenge the coercive tactics that DHS has employed as it attempts to take over private and municipal property. The University of Texas at Brownsville has announced that they will bring suit to force DHS to comply with a court order requiring that they explore others alternatives to a wall that would slice through their campus. And altough the Supreme Court refused to hear the constitutional challenge to the Real ID Act's waiver privision brought by the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife, there is another constitutional challenge pending, brought by El Paso County, the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1, the Hudspeth County Conservation and Reclamation District No. 1, the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo of the Tigua Nation, Frontera Audubon Society, the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, and the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, and Brownsville’s Galeria 409.
The following press release was sent out by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid regarding their ongoing efforts on behalf of private landowners threatened by the border wall:
LOS EBANOS, Texas – Two Rio Grande Valley families will be taking their legal fight against the federal government regarding the construction of the border wall to New Orleans, Louisiana.
Represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), the largest provider of legal aid in Texas, the families of Hilaria and Baldomero Muniz and Pamela Rivas are fighting the government’s efforts to take their land to build a wall along the Texas – Mexico border. The legal battle will continue in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on July 8th. The Court will convene at 9 am.
The legal battle began when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) filed lawsuits against the families to gain access to their land to begin planning the border wall. The families have argued that DHS did not follow the legal steps required before initiating the condemnation proceedings. DHS has sued more than fifty Rio Grande Valley landowners in the border wall process.
According to TRLA attorney Jerome Wesevich,“The government is required to negotiate a reasonable price for the property with these families before they use the court system. The government’s reasonable price was nothing.”
Both the Muniz and Rivas families have owned property in Los Ebanos for several decades. Baldomero and Hilaria Muniz worked as migrant farmworkers to save the money to build their house along the Rio Grande River. They have raised five children in that house and currently use the land to raise goats that they depend on to survive.
“Zero dollars is not a reasonable price for these families’ livelihoods,” added Wesevich. “The government needs to comply with its own laws. Right now, its failure to do so is at the expense of hardworking border landowners.”
Established in 1970, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA) is a nonprofit organization that provides free civil legal services to low-income and disadvantaged clients in a 68-county service area. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and stability of low-income Texas residents by providing high-quality legal assistance and related educational services.
Contact: Jerome Wesevich, Attorney
Cynthia Martinez, Communications Director