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The Trump Admin Is Trying to Build the Border Wall on Land It Doesn’t Own

The government is prematurely granting contracts to build on land it doesn’t yet own, costing millions in delays.

President Trump gestures toward fencing at the international border with Mexico in San Luis, Arizona, June 23, 2020.

A new investigation has found that the Trump administration has awarded contracts to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico on land that it does not yet own. This tactic has led to millions of dollars in delay costs.

The investigation, produced jointly by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune, finds that, in many places where the government does not yet own the land, “the agency has used the argument, often successfully, to convince even dubious federal judges to immediately seize land from property owners fighting their eminent domain cases” at least 24 times. These cases have caused some frustration among the judges hearing them, the publications report, with the U.S. government forcing timelines unnecessarily.

“The Court has repeatedly expressed its dissatisfaction with the United States’s requests for expedited relief,” one district judge wrote. “The United States is not entitled to expedited relief, and should cease requesting such relief without good cause.”

Former senior counsel for President Barack Obama’s State Department Austin Evers told ProPublica and The Texas Tribune that, because of the Trump administration receiving penalties over signing contracts for land it can’t yet contract out, “American taxpayers are seeing their money thrown away for no purpose because the government signed the contract before it could execute the project.” In some places, delays have been adding costs of as much as $100,000 per day.

As the Texas Civil Rights Project points out on Twitter, at least one family may have their property built on before they receive just compensation under eminent domain. The government filed to have a judge grant them the property immediately on Tuesday, but if they continue as they have, they may start building even before the property has been granted, the organization pointed out.

The border wall has cost billions more than initially anticipated. Republicans fought for even more funding in the latest COVID stimulus package and got $1.4 billion, down from the $2 billion Trump had requested. And yet, while the stimulus was delayed for several months due to many back-and-forth negotiations, a part of many Republican objections to the package was how much the bill would cost. Several Republicans, such as Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, voted against the stimulus for that reason, though economists say that it’s normal for the government to engage in deficit spending when there’s an economic emergency such as the COVID-induced recession.

On the other hand, if President-elect Joe Biden halts construction on the border wall as he has vowed to do — “not another foot,” he promised in August — the government would save an estimated $2.6 billion, according to the Pentagon. At current rates of expenditure, there has been about $15 billion tied up in building 738 miles, which comes out to about $20 million a mile.

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