Following Senate Dem Request, Federal Watchdog Says They Will Investigate Trump Admin’s Efforts To Seize Privately Held Land To Build Southern Border Wall

September 11, 2019

Washington, D.C. – Senate Democrats today announced that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) will investigate the Trump administration’s efforts to use eminent domain to “take the land” of private landowners by any means necessary to build an expensive, ineffective southern border wall after Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) first requested the investigation in an August 2019 letter to U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, urging GAO to investigate the administration’s harmful efforts.

In the August letter, the Senators emphasized that despite multiple requests from Congress, the Trump administration has failed to provide specific information regarding its eminent domain efforts, including how many citizens will have their land seized, definitive real estate costs or requirements, or a timetable for completing land acquisition efforts. Senators Schumer, Durbin, Udall, and Heinrich also stressed that landowners must receive just compensation for any public seizure of private property.

“The Trump administration’s plan to seize privately held land—at whatever cost and by whatever means necessary—for the president’s expensive, ineffective border wall is yet another outrageous power grab by an administration constantly challenging any limits on its authority,” said Leader Schumer. “Make no mistake: this administration is trying to take away Americans’ private property without an ounce of oversight and has repeatedly failed to provide basic, critical information, including how many citizens will have their land seized. I am glad the U.S. Government Accountability Office will investigate the administration’s disturbing efforts.”

“Sixty-seven percent of the land along the southwest border belongs to American citizens, not the federal government,” said Senator Durbin.  “First, President Trump raided American taxpayer money that Congress had appropriated to take care of our brave service members.  And now he is determined to seize this land in order to build his ineffective border wall.  It is critical that the U.S. Government Accountability Office investigate this Administration’s land grab, and I’m glad that they will be looking into this matter.”

“I welcome the new GAO  investigation into the Trump administration’s abuse of eminent domain to seize the property of land owners for a wasteful and unpopular border wall,” said Senator Udall. “Not only is the Trump administration stealing funds from critical military projects to pay for the wall, they’re also pushing to take away people’s private land often with little to no compensation — with the president reportedly ordering officials to ‘take the land’ and ‘don’t worry’ about the law because ‘I’ll pardon you.’ Under this administration's thoughtless and potentially lawless land grab, homes could be confiscated, farms and livelihoods ruined, neighbors cut off from one another, Tribal sovereignty upended, and endangered species and habitat lost forever. In the interest of preserving the rule of law, stopping waste, fraud and abuse, and protecting the private landownership of Americans living along the border, the administration should suspend all use of eminent domain until GAO is able to fully investigate this issue to its conclusion. Congress and the American people deserve honest answers.”

“Close to 70 percent of land along the southwest border belongs to entities other than the federal government," said Senator Heinrich. "Any efforts by the Trump Administration to use eminent domain must take into account the rights of landowners and provide just compensation for any seizure of private property. These property owners deserve transparency and the Administration needs to be held accountable for its actions. I support this investigation and call on my colleagues to pass the Full Fair and Complete Exchange Act so that we can prevent landowners from having their land seized until all persons or entities are properly compensated in full.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)’s letter to Senate Democrats can be found here and below:

September 5, 2019

The Honorable Charles E. Schumer

Minority Leader

United States Senate

Dear Senator Schumer:

Thank you for your letter, jointly signed by a number of your colleagues, requesting that the Government Accountability Office review matters relating to the Trump Administration’s efforts to exercise the power of eminent domain to build a wall on the southern border of the United States.

GAO accepts your request as work that is within the scope of its authority. At the current time we anticipate that staff with the required skills will be available to initiate an engagement in about three months. Your request has been assigned to Mr. Charles Michael Johnson, Jr., Managing Director, Homeland Security and Justice. Closer to the time GAO can start this engagement, Mr. Johnson or a member of his team will contact Mr. Jim Secreto to confirm

that this request continues to be your priority for us. As applicable, we will also be in contact with the cognizant Inspector General’s office to ensure that we are not duplicating efforts. If an issue arises during this coordination, we will consult with you regarding its resolution.

If you have any questions, please contact Mr. Johnson at ______________ or ______________, or me at ______________ or ______________.

Sincerely yours,

Orice Williams Brown

Managing Director

Congressional Relations