Thursday, January 10, 2008
The government is readying 102 court cases against landowners in Arizona, California and Texas for blocking efforts to select sites for a fence along the Mexican border, a Department of Homeland Security official said yesterday.
With the lawsuits expected soon, the legal action would mark an escalation in the clash between the government and the property owners. The Bush administration wants to build 370 miles of fencing and 300 miles of vehicle barriers by the end of the year.
A number of property owners have granted the government access to their land, but others have refused. The agency sent letters to 135 of them last month, warning that they had 30 days to comply or face court action.
Thirty-three complied. The deadline for many of the owners passed on Monday or should expire this week for others.
Resistance is most intense in Texas, which accounts for 71 cases, while there are 20 against California landowners and 11 in Arizona, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said.
The government may not need all the properties for the project. Officials need to determine which to buy or seize through eminent domain, or whether alternatives such as lighting, more Border Patrol agents or technology would work better in those areas.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has made clear that there is a limit to how long federal officials will wait for access to the land. He told reporters on Dec. 7 that this process is "not open for endless talk."
Some opponents of the fence say the government is violating the rights of indigenous landowners, descendants of American Indians and others who claim ancestral rights to the land or whose families were awarded property through Spanish land grants.
One holdout, Eloisa Garcia Tamez, 72, owns three acres in El Calaboz, Tex., about 12 miles west of Brownsville, a city at the state's southernmost tip. Tamez said her property was part of a Spanish land grant and her grandfather was Lipan Apache, a tribe not officially recognized by Washington but known to have existed in Texas and Mexico.
"I'm waiting for whatever they've got coming and I'm not going to sign. I'm not," Tamez said.