Despite shutdown, border wall litigation continues

As the partial government shutdown nears one month, the only cases government civil litigators are working on in the Rio Grande Valley are eminent domain border wall cases — and the government is hiring.

The Texas Civil Rights Project released a transcript of an eminent domain case in McAllen that dates back a decade where Eric Paxton Warner, a government attorney, told U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez that eminent domain cases are all he is able to work on, the Associated Press reported.

President Donald Trump partially shut down the government on Dec. 22 because bipartisan legislation to fund the government did not include $5.7 billion for a border wall, a point of contention between Trump and Democrats that has resulted in a historic partial government shutdown, the likes of which hasn’t yet been seen in the United States.

Just weeks before the Dec. 22 impasse, the Department of Justice quietly posted a job advertisement seeking attorneys to work on border wall cases in Brownsville and McAllen.

The DOJ posted the job advertisement on Dec. 6 for a few vacancies with salaries ranging between $53,062 to $138,790 per year. The posting closes on March 5.

Those jobs are not permanent, however, and the DOJ job posting describes them as temporary positions that will last 14 months.

The advertisement comes as Rio Grande Valley property owners who live near the Rio Grande brace to wait and see if the U.S. government plans to seize their land for a border wall while property owners who lost land to the government a decade ago where there is existing border wall are still fighting court cases over compensation.

The hearing that revealed government civil litigators are only allowed to work on eminent domain border litigation was one such case.

The Associated Press reports that the hearing was between Los Ebanos resident Pamela Rivas and the government over compensation on land the government already obtained from Rivas. The wall hasn’t been built there yet because of flooding concerns 11 years ago, but the government plans to build an 18-foot-high wall on Rivas’ property if it receives funding this year, the Associated Press reported.

That is just one of a slew of still-active cases from President George W. Bush’s wall in Cameron and Hidalgo counties, though most existing fencing is located in Cameron County.

A few years ago, U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen consolidated all of the Cameron County cases, but recently at least two of those civil cases have been severed from the consolidation.

And the stage is set for a new round of border wall cases.

The Diocese of Brownsville is currently embroiled with the government in an attempt to fend off attempts by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security to survey land for a border wall that includes the historic La Lomita Chapel. There’s also the case of the Pharr Oratory of St. Philips Neri School, which in the last few weeks reached an agreement allowing the government access to the property. In exchange, the government agreed not to store equipment on the property and to stay away on certain religious holidays.

In early December, the National Butterfly Center lost its bid to stop government bulldozers from removing brush and trees to create a 150-foot enforcement zone for the 18-foot border wall after the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Last year, Congress approved funding a $1.3 trillion bill that included money for 25 miles of border wall in Hidalgo County and another eight miles in Starr County.

In Cameron County, the government is building up to 11 gates to fill in gaps in the border wall and after SpaceX confirmed that DHS and CBP requested access to survey its Boca Chica launch facility. There is speculation that there is another round of border wall planned for Cameron County if Trump obtains more border wall funding.

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com