AUSTIN, Texas — The government can take immediate possession of land in the town of Mission as part of the border wall, even though President Joe Biden has said he does not plan to push forward with the project, a federal judge in South Texas has ruled.
“The Court grants the United States’ motion and orders all people or entities in possession or control of the Subject Property to surrender possession or control of said property to the extent of the estate being condemned to the United States, immediately,” U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez wrote in her ruling handed down this week.
The ruling came in response to the government’s motion filed during the waning days of the Trump administration in a case involving about 6.6 acres of a larger tract along the Rio Grande owned by Baudilia Cavazos.
The family is “utterly devastated” by the court’s action, Cavazos said.
“We thought President Joe Biden would protect us,” she said. “Now we’ve lost our land. We don’t even know what comes next.”
Shortly after Biden took office on Jan. 20, he ordered a 60-day pause while land condemnations associated with the border wall could be reviewed. That order expired March 21 and Alvarez’s ruling came just over three weeks later.
The government served notice in that it would condemn the Cavazos property in late August 2020. And Alvarez’s order was in response to a Dec. 21, 2020, motion by Ryan Patrick, then the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.
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That was after Biden had won the 2020 election; during the campaign he had promised not to build “another foot” of the wall. No substantive court motions were filed by the government in the case after Biden assumed the presidency.
Still, the attorney from the Texas Civil Rights Project representing the Cavazos family said she was angered that the case has remained active after the change in administrations.
“What we find most outrageous is the Department of Justice’s decision to aggressively pursue Texas families’ land through these cases despite the president’s commitment of not another foot,” attorney Carolyn O’Connor. “Taking land from border communities is still a DOJ priority in border wall cases, even in cases where there is no danger, urgent need, or ongoing construction on the tract in question,”
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The lawsuit involving the Cavazos family’s land is among about 115 eminent domain cases that have moved forward under the Biden administration. No new such cases have been filed in Texas since Trump left office.
Patrick, who was appointed by Trump and had filed some 200 condemnation cases during his tenure, resigned after Biden took office. No permanent replacement has yet been announced.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the ruling.