WASHINGTON – A federal judge has ordered a small border city in Texas to temporarily turn over its land to the federal government so it can begin to build a border fence.
U.S. District Judge Alia Moses Ludlum ordered the city of Eagle Pass, on the border about 100 miles southwest of San Antonio, to "surrender" 233 acres of city-owned land. The Justice Department sued the city for access to the land.
The Homeland Security Department is trying to build 370 miles of border fence by the end of the year. A law signed by President Bush and supported by both of Texas' U.S. senators mandated a total of 700 miles of fence along the border. The government had warned the city, which opposes the fence, it would sue under eminent domain laws to secure access to the property, declaring it is "taking" the property for 180 days.
The judge's order, issued Monday in the Texas Western District Court, Del Rio division, said the United States, the plaintiff, is entitled to possession or control of the property as requested.
"Well, that seems a little heavy handed," Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press.
Foster is the head of the Texas Border Coalition, a group of border mayors, city officials and business leaders who opposed Homeland Security's border fence plans and have complained that they haven't had enough input on the effects of the fence on their communities.
Ludlum ordered the property to be surrendered by Tuesday. Foster said the city of about 25,000 was served with papers from the lawsuit Tuesday and officials were busy with a council meeting and other matters and hadn't completely reviewed the documents.
The Justice Department is expected to file 102 lawsuits against landowners for access to property the Border Patrol and Army Corps of Engineers want to survey to decide where to put border fencing or other barriers.
Several landowners have given the government access to their land, including some who oppose the fence. But many others in Texas, Arizona and California have refused, prompting the lawsuits.