HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) — President Joe Biden may have paused construction on the border wall, but Trump-era eminent domain cases are still tied up in the courts.
President Biden halted construction on the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border shortly after taking office in January. However, ongoing eminent domain cases were not paused.
“This is a unique situation where the current administration may see things very very different from the prior, and it may be that the current administration drops all eminent domain proceedings,” said Guerra.
There are thousands of miles of border that the Trump administration wanted to build the border wall on. Any private property along that path would either need to be bought, or taken through the eminent domain process.
As a result hundreds of eminent domain cases were brought to take the land.
“You’re talking hundreds if not thousands, so this could take 10, 20, 30 years to play out. And so if they’re trying to hold onto their land they need to act now,” said Guerra.
In the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, McAllen Division, there are currently 60 active cases, according to federal records.
Several of the cases are against either unknown heirs of land, which means the government is not sure exactly who owns the land, or against people that are listed as an unknown address.
An unknown heir means that the person who owned the land died, and did not designate in their will who the land would go to. Typically in that situation, the land is transferred to the next of kin.
While cases can be brought against the land while it’s still under the control of an unknown heir, the court system still must do its best to find the legal owner.
“The idea that this is going to take place with no checks on heirs, or no due diligence, that’s very minimal risk,” said Guerra.
Guerra told KVEO that the vast majority of the time the government will win an eminent domain case.
If the heir can’t be found before the case ends, the money will be held by the court for a few years. If it isn’t claimed by then, it is returned to the state.
“And basically you lose the right to that money, but that takes years. It’s not something that’s going to happen in weeks or months. By the time that happens, generally, the persons not coming forward,” Guerra said.
The government will post information about cases with unknown heirs in the county courthouse, and other places that could be seen by locals.