Judge: U.S. Government Must Pay to Seize Property

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As a follow-up to a recent story about border fences, a federal judge has ruled that the U.S. government must first try to negotiate a price with landowner Eloisa Tamez before seizing her property. Tamez, whose property lies within a planned construction area for the massive fence, considers the decision a victory.


I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We have some breaking news for you. Earlier this month, we discussed one aspect of the proposal to erect a fence along portions of the U.S.-Mexico border. While some call the fence essential to national security, some landowners are complaining that the federal government has failed to negotiate with them properly and would take land from them that, in some cases, has been in their families for centuries.

Those landowners have won a reprieve. A federal judge ruled last Friday that the Department of Homeland Security cannot seize the properly of Eloisa Tamez for the fence without negotiating to find a fair price. She owns three acres in El Calaboz, just outside Brownsville, Texas. That's in the path of the proposed fence. She's also a professor of nursing at the University of Texas at Brownsville. She joined us earlier to talk about her side of the dispute. She's back with us now to talk about the ruling. Welcome, professor. Thank you for talking to us.

Professor ELOISA TAMEZ (Nursing, University of Texas): Good morning, and thank you for having me.

MARTIN: How did you hear about the ruling? Were you in court?

Prof. TAMEZ: No, actually my lawyer, Peter Schey, contacted me by telephone that the - he had just been notified that the judge had made a decision.

MARTIN: As I understand it, the judge's ruling does not mean that you're in the clear, but it does mean that the judge took your side of the argument in that you'd complained on our program that you don't feel the Department of Homeland Security had adequately tried to negotiate with you for that.

Prof. TAMEZ: That's correct. That was one of the oppositions that we presented on February 7th, when we were - went to the hearing before Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville. And we said that Secretary Chertoff was not following the correct, the right law, and that, in fact, I had not been consulted. And therefore, if he were to follow the right law, which was the 2008 Appropriations Act, which indicated that Secretary Chertoff had to meet certain conditions before seizing the land, then that's what we charged, that he wasn't following that. So in that respect, Judge Hanen says that he is ordering that the secretary begin negotiations. I also have to be involved in cooperating with, you know, those negotiations.

MARTIN: It's my understanding, though, just to remind our listeners, that this land has been in your family for centuries. But as I understand this ruling, it still means you will probably lose at least some of the land. It just means that the department has to now negotiate with you for it.

So have you resigned yourself to losing part of your land?

Prof. TAMEZ: I am not - I'm for enforcing the law, not breaking it, so I have no intentions of breaking the law. I'm an American citizen, and I'm a law-abiding citizen. I have no intention of breaking the law. The judge says I must meet with Homeland Security, and Peter Schey and I will certainly do that.

MARTIN: Well, keep us posted, please, if you would.

Prof. TAMEZ: I certainly will.

MARTIN: Professor…

Prof. TAMEZ: This is a good day for America, because we're finding out that the constitution works.

MARTIN: Okay. Professor Eloisa Tamez joined us from her home near Brownsville, Texas. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Prof. TAMEZ: Okay, thank you.

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