Texas landowners to be given ultimatum on border fence
Chertoff allowing them last chance for access before taking court action
By SUZANNE GAMBOA
Dec. 6, 2007, 11:45PM
WASHINGTON Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is giving Texas landowners opposed to a border fence one last chance to allow access to their land before he takes court action against them, a Texas senator said Thursday.
Sen. John Cornyn said letters from the Department of Homeland Security are expected to go out today. But for those who refuse access, the department would likely seek a court order to enter the property, he said.
“He assured me that negotiations would continue and his hope is the vast majority of these cases could be resolved without litigation. Maybe in a handful of cases litigation would be required,” he said.
A Homeland Security Department spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
President Bush last year approved 700 miles of fencing and barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border. Unlike other states, most land in Texas is in private hands.
Some landowners along the border have opposed government plans to build fencing to curb illegal immigration on the Texas-Mexico border.
“All that will do is fire people up more down here,” John McClung, president of the Texas Produce Association, said of the impending letters.
“Nothing makes a landowner more unhappy than the idea of condemnation of land, the idea of being forced to turn land over to government,” McClung said.
Several members of the group could lose access to the Rio Grande, which they rely on for irrigating crops or to rich farm land that abuts the river.
Opponents have criticized the government for failing to keep them fully informed on fence plans and refusing to listen to residents' proposals for alternatives to the fence.
“It's just a continuation of a battle with our government. We are for security. However, the way they are approaching solving security problems, we just disagree with,” said McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez. “We just don't see how a non-continuous fence, when you have 6,000 miles of land borders, is going to stop terrorism and illegal immigration. We continue to believe it is a waste of taxpayers' money.”
Federal officials say they need access to the land to assess possible sites for the fence. They say the fence is one of several tools being used to curb illegal border crossings, including “virtual fence” and more patrols.
Cornyn said Chertoff told him about 40 landowners have refused to provide access to their land. Of the total, 110 have not responded or can't be located and 258 have given the government the access, a congressional official familiar with the statistics said on condition of anonymity because the Homeland Security Department had not released them.