Legislation proposed today by Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.) would essentially require the federal government to offer landowners “just compensation” before seizing their property to make room for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Eminent Domain Just Compensation Act, the text of which Amash posted to Twitter, doesn’t specifically mention President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall. But considering the timing—Trump and congressional Democrats are currently at an impasse regarding $5.7 billion in wall funding—the immediate potential impact is pretty clear.
As Amash’s office noted in a press release, the Fifth Amendment does allow the government to take “private property for public use,” as long as “just compensation” is provided. “But in some cases,” the statement explains, “the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other government agencies are using ‘quick take’ condemnations to take possession of private property before just compensation has been determined.”
“It is unjust for the government to seize someone’s property with a lowball offer and then put the burden on them to fight for what they are still owed,” Amash said in a statement. “My bill will stop this practice by requiring that a property’s fair value be finalized before DHS takes ownership.”
The libertarian-leaning Republican does not necessarily oppose building a wall on the southern border. “I don’t have an inherent objection to a border wall,” he told the Ionia Sentinel-Standard last week. But he emphasized that “it should take into consideration private property at the border and environmental concerns.”
There are indeed significant private property concerns when it comes to building the wall. That’s because the federal government owns less than a third of the land on the southern border. The rest belongs to other entities, including states, Native American tribes, and private individuals. Most of the border land in Texas is private property, and as they’ve explained to Reason TV, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press, some of those landowners don’t plan to go down without a fight.
Efrén C. Olivares, racial and economic justice program director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, told the Post one major issue is that landowners who decide to fight the government in court are often forced to give up access to their land in the meantime before a final payout is determined. Amash’s legislation would likely remedy this “by requiring that court proceedings settling compensation be completed prior to the government’s taking possession of the property,” according to the press release.
The bill would thus stop the Trump administration from using what the president referred to on Friday as the “military version of eminent domain.”
“[Lawsuits are] not going to hold [the wall] up because under the military version of eminent domain and under, actually, homeland security we can do it before we even start,” Trump said. If Amash’s bill became law, the government wouldn’t be able to seize land until those lawsuits are settled.