Texas landowners cross over border

A frail wooden fence

TEXT OF STORY

Doug Krizner: Yesterday, property owners along the Texas-Mexico border had a deadline. It was their last chance to respond to an ultimatum from the Department of Homeland Security: Give the government access to your land to build the border fence, or risk losing it altogether. From Texas Public Radio in San Antonio, David Martin Davies reports.


David Martin Davies: Eloisa Tamez traces her family back to the 1700's, when the King of Spain granted her ancestors a parcel of land.

Eloisa Tamez: That part there used to be where my grandmother lived.

Over the generations, the family sold off most of that land, but Tamez still hangs on to a 3-acre plot in Calaboz, Texas, a rural community near the southernmost tip of the state -- and right in the path of the border fence.

But Tamez says she's not selling her land to the government or anyone else:

Tamez: There is no price tag. This is something I want to will to my children and to their children.

Tamez might not have a choice. Last month, the Army Corps of Engineers sent 135 letters to hold-out landowners saying they want permission to access their land, survey it, and build the border fence by the end of the year. The government would pay fair market value for the land. And if need be, they would take the land under eminent domain.

David Hall, the director of Texas Rio Grand Legal Aid, says some landowners gave their permission, but many, like Tamez, are saying no.

David Hall: People at the other end of the spectrum say, "We don't want to have anything to do with you. We've lived here in this family for 400 years, we're not going to give up anything. We'll fight you tooth and nail."

Hall is representing those holdout landowners against the federal government. He says a problem for the feds will be figuring out who exactly owns the land.

Hall: It's what we refer to around here in the legal business as a landman's nightmare.

Hall says some these properties have never been surveyed. They've never had a title search -- they've just been handed down from father to son for hundreds of years outside the legal system.

Hall: And the government's got to make sure they're dealing not only with the person in possession, but also whoever's got some claim to this land. It's going to be huge. It's going to be time-consuming. It's complicated.

But will that slow down the border fence? Not likely -- Homeland Security can just take the land, begin construction, and worry about the court fights later.

In San Antonio, I'm David Martin Davies for Marketplace.

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