Pandemic Isn't Slowing Trump's Border Wall Plan, Woman Fighting to Keep Her Family's Land Says

Sections of border wall are pictured under construction on February 13, 2020 in Dona Ana County, New Mexico.
Sections of border wall are pictured under construction on February 13, 2020 in Dona Ana County, New Mexico. (Getty Images)

Nayda Alvarez, 49, has lived in Rio Grande Valley, Texas, nearly all of her life. Her father lives adjacent to her property on his land, and before he passed away, her grandfather lived close by on land that still belongs to the family. But the lives Nayda's family has built for themselves could soon be taken away. All three properties, which equal around 8 acres, are now embroiled in a lawsuit, as the government sues Alvarez and her family for access to survey those properties in an effort to continue building the Trump administration’s promised border wall

It was more than a year ago that Alvarez said she received the first letter from the United States Army Corps of Engineers that stated they wanted to survey her land. At the time, her mom, who has since passed away, was very sick with cancer and in hospice care. Even though she told the government organization as much, she said they did not let up.

“That’s the type of people they are. They don’t take [no] for an answer,” Alvarez told InsideEdition.com. “They want to do a quick take and say we’ll figure out your compensation later. This is not farmland. This is not a ranch. This is my home.”

Alvarez said that in total, she has received at least six notices by the government requesting to survey her land. She is now being represented by the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP). 

Trump promised during his campaign to build 450 new miles of border wall by 2021, and it seems as though the administration is swiftly trying to make good on that promise by convincing as many residents whose homes are in the line of the proposed path of the wall to hand over their property to the U.S. government, according to attorneys with TCRP. 

As of December, only 93 miles of the wall had been built, mostly on federal land, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The Trump administration, though, has been constantly pushing the Department of Homeland Security to speed up the process. CBP stated that 144 miles of the wall is set to be built on privately-owned land. 

Border wall construction is currently continuing in Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Texas.

In February, Trump declared a national emergency on the Mexican-American border, a decision that gave the administration access to billions to help with the construction of the wall. The total cost for the wall is set to be around $11 billion.

“We’re going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border, and we’re going to do it one way or the other,” Trump said shortly after the national emergency declaration. “We have an invasion of drugs and criminals coming into our country.”

Ricky Garza, an attorney with TCRP, said there are two phases in court that a landowner goes through when being sued by the government. In the first phase, if a resident denies them free range to survey their property, the government sues for the right to access. In the second phase, once the government has been granted access, they can sue to outright take possession of the land."

Even though the government already has the right to their land, every resident has a constitutional right to “just compensation," so when a landowner goes to court, it is to argue for a higher price than the government is offering, Garza explained. 

Because of eminent domain powers, though, even if a landowner hasn’t yet received their full payment from the government for their land, the federal government would be within its rights to say the construction of the wall is a national emergency, giving them power to  take immediate physical possession of the landowner’s property, according TCRP.

“The government moves so aggressively with these cases. Most people go through it without an attorney,”  Garza said. “And if you don’t know what’s going on, the government is going to take advantage of that and they will move to close these cases within a few weeks, if not a couple months.”

Cases like these initially began after George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act into law in 2006, which added 548 miles of fencing along the Mexican border with the U.S. over a four-year period. It cost more than $2 billion to build.

Even during the current novel coronavirus pandemic, Alvarez said she has still seen surveyors nearby. 

“I mean, are we at war? Why is it so important to build this wall when thousands of people are dying from coronavirus. We’re spending millions of dollars to build a wall when doctors and nurses are in need of equipment,” Alvarez said. 

For Alvarez though, her worry goes much deeper. She is concerned about the land battle for her 76-year-old father, who has a heart condition. She said she worries about the stress this is causing him. She added that she would take him in if anything were to happen, but said she “shouldn’t have to do that.”

“Talking pandemic-wise, he can get sick and die,” Alvarez said. "As it is, our hands are tied because we’re facing the U.S. government. It’s just bad.”

There's much uncertainty surrounding Alvarez’s case, Garza said. It’s not clear how much of her family’s land they want to take or how long her case will take. He said cases can range from going on for years to a few weeks, if a resident signs over their land.

Garza said TCRP has taken on several new cases since the pandemic started.

“The surge in new cases means the government is taking advantage of the pandemic," he said. "As Arizona and New Mexico were placed under stay-at-home orders, border wall construction continued anyway and the same thing is happening in the federal courts of Texas. Many south Texas landowners, like many of our clients, are elderly and from low-income Mexican-American families.

"No one should be forced to risk their health to defend their home in court, and all construction and lawsuits should be stopped.”

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