Well, I suppose this is one way to hold down the costs of litigation: Last Monday, the federal government sued the border city of Eagle Pass for access to municipal land to do surveying for the border fence. Turns out that that suit was also decided that day, with no one bothering to tell Eagle Pass beforehand that this was going on. From the first story:
U.S. District Judge Alia Moses Ludlum ordered the city of Eagle Pass to "surrender" the 233 acres of city-owned land by Tuesday. The Justice Department had sued for access to the land on Monday. Ludlum's ruling came the same day, before the city could muster a challenge.
The judge's order, issued in the Texas Western District Court, Del Rio division, said the United States, the plaintiff, is entitled to possession or control of the property for 180 days.
"Well, that seems a little heavy handed," Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster said Wednesday.
Foster leads the Texas Border Coalition, a group of border mayors, city officials and business leaders who oppose Homeland Security's border fence plans and have complained that they haven't had enough input on the effects of the fence on their communities.
Foster said the city of about 25,000 was served with the lawsuit Tuesday but not told of the ruling that had occurred Monday.
Foster said he's confused by the "aggressive action" because his city attorneys have been drafting paperwork for an easement for federal officials to build a road and erect 15 light towers along the border on city land.
"Informing the city after the judge ruled that their land is already taken is not the Texan or American way of justice," said Monica Weisberg-Stewart, Texas Border Coalition committee chairwoman.
Foster and his city council colleagues thought Border Patrol was consulting in good faith over an alternative to the border fence plan that included clearing Carrizo cane from the banks of the Rio Grande so that Border Patrol agents had better line of sight to the river.
"What the government is doing, it's like a police state," said Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada. "They are dictating to the citizens. It's very anti-American."
On Monday, attorneys for the Justice Department asked U.S. District Judge Alia Moses Ludlum in Del Rio for permission to access for 180 days 233 acres of city-owned land in Eagle Pass. Because Foster and his city's attorneys did not know about the hearing they could not challenge the lawsuit. "The ironic thing is that Judge Ludlum went to school in Eagle Pass," Foster said.
San Juan Mayor San Juanita Sanchez said that as an attorney she could not understand how the government could get a court ruling on such a major issue without the other party being made aware of the lawsuit.
"Giving the other side notice sounds pretty basic to me. The government is not even following what our justice system asks for," Sanchez said.
Asked what she would do if she were the mayor of Eagle Pass, Sanchez said, fight.
"I think one of the things you do as a leader of a community is to raise the awareness of everyone in your community. Gather them together and you can make a big difference," Sanchez said. "That's something we did when we had that toll bridge, we got the community together now we are happy to announce great development coming in."
Monica Weisberg-Stewart, co-chair of the TBC's immigration committee, issued a hard-hitting statement on Wednesday.
"Even in the most egregious eminent domain cases, the party whose land is being taken is given his or her day in court. The people of Texas should be outraged by the sneaky, underhanded methods used by the Department of Homeland Security," Weisberg-Stewart said.
"Informing the city after the judge ruled that their land is already taken is not the Texan or American way of justice. It demonstrates again that we are losing our liberties to a federal government that is without restraint and out of control."
The Department of Homeland Security refused to grant the Texas Border Coalition additional consultation meetings, to which the coalition responded with a letter reiterating their proposal and calling for more local community input in the border fence construction process.
Chad Foster, Texas Border Coalition chairman, said in the letter that he regrets that DHS has chosen to reject the consultation proposal made to assist DHS with the requirement of Section 564 of Public Law 110-161.
The provision, which was written into the Omnibus Appropriations Bill by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-TX, and Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, requires DHS to consult with local governments and communities located near the sites where the border fence will be constructed.
The law also says that no funds will be released for Border Security Fencing, Infrastructure and Technology until DHS has complied with the provision.
Foster said the rejection of the proposal appears to be based on the department's fear that it will require delays to the border fence timeline and that the "department fears TBC will seek to have veto power over operational assessments."
"We seek no veto and wish to assure your fears that our efforts are in no way intended to delay the project," said Foster. "We would suggest that a consultation based on cooperation and intent on exploring more effective measures to accomplish the mutual purpose of border security would more swiftly accomplish the goals we share."
In DHS's letter announcing the refusal to grant consultation meetings to the coalition, David Pagan, Advisor to the Commissioner, said that U.S. Customs and Border Protection has gone through great lengths to obtain public input.
"As part of these public outreach efforts, CBP has contacted almost 600 different land owners and held 18 town hall meetings," said Pagan. "CBP has also engaged federal, state and local government partners and members of the public as part of our ongoing consultations through the environmental review process."
The letter also referred to the "open house" hearings DHS held in McAllen, Brownsville and Rio Grande City in December as part of the Environmental Impact Statement process.
Foster said DHS's rejection is also based on the claim that comprehensive consultation has taken place and that the coalition's proposal for another meeting is redundant.
"TBC is concerned about the repeated claim that CBP has conducted 18 public town hall meetings and contacted 600 landowners as part of its consultation process," said Foster. "TBC is unaware of any DHS or CBP public town hall meetings to consult with the people of the Texas-Mexico border prior to publication of maps and plans for the wall in recently released environmental review documents."
The federal government has sued the Brownsville Public Utilities Board and several Cameron County landowners to get access to their property as officials work on the proposed Mexican border fence.
The 12 land condemnation lawsuits filed Thursday state that the Homeland Security Department intends to seize the property under federal eminent domain laws and plans to compensate landowners, according to Harlingen television station KGBT-TV.
The filing followed a judge's order earlier this week that allowed federal seizure of 233 acres of city-owned land in the border community of Eagle Pass. City leaders were furious with the order, which came the same day federal prosecutors sued for access to the land.
Ninfa Rojas, one of the Cameron County landowners being sued, said her family bought a half-acre for its future home near the Rio Grande about three years ago after years of saving money.
"This is very unjust," Rojas told The Brownsville Herald in Saturday editions.