Biden Leaves Landowners at Border High and Dry After Trump Promised to Buy Land for Wall


Danny Villarreal isn’t in favor of the border wall.

If you’re a conservative, his opinion on illegal immigration likely isn’t yours.

“This is the greatest country in the world, and why would people not want to be a part of the big melting pot?” Villarreal told Fox News.

Disregarding the fact the “melting pot” metaphor has been canceled for a while now, the idea of borders and the legal enforcement of their existence doesn’t sound like something that appeals to him. Come one, come all!

While Villarreal owns 70 acres of land on the Rio Grande in South Texas, he’s not particularly concerned about the influx of migrants crossing in illegally. When they do, he said, Customs and Border Protection takes care of things rather quickly — and, given the policies of the current administration, begins putting them in line for adjudication into that melting pot.

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“There are so many cameras and sensors the government has hidden around here,” Villarreal said. “When the camera goes off, it is in real time, and Border Patrol is very fast.”

And yet, when the Biden administration unilaterally put the brakes on everything involving border wall construction, Villarreal wasn’t exactly a man filled with unalloyed joy. That’s because he sold some of his property along the border when the Trump administration was buying up parcels of land to build the wall. He figured it would use eminent domain otherwise and he wanted to get fair value.

“They came to me and they wanted to know who had the legal rights to the property and then the process started. The land surveyors came through, then the land appraisers came through next, and then the negotiations, and then you ultimately signed,” Villarreal told Fox News.

“And if you didn’t sign, they were going to take it away from you anyway.”

Should border wall construction have been stopped?

His family had some previous experience with eminent domain and how that can go.

“My parents had land in Lopeno, Texas, and when they built Falcon Dam, they flooded the little town out and my parents were compensated, but it was pennies on the dollar,” Villarreal said.

“I said no at first, but they said they would take it anyway and I wanted to make sure what happened to my parents didn’t happen again, so I sold 1.2 acres of my land.”

The Trump administration was in the process of buying up roughly 1,000 parcels along the southern border — including that which belonged to Danny Villarreal and his cousin, Rene — in anticipation of building a section of the wall there.

However, when President Joe Biden shut down construction on the wall via an executive order on his first day in the White House, he also put a pause on the money that was set aside to build it — as well as to buy up land like Villarreal’s.

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“They said the money has already been set aside for this and no matter what the Biden administration says or does, even if they stop the program, the land is still legally theirs,” Villarreal said.

“But, as of right now, I have not been paid.”

So, what’ll end up happening?

According to Fox News, “dozens of eminent domain claims are still tied up in legal battles” from the wall. In mid-March, the U.S. Attorney’s Office dropped efforts to take some South Texas land.

Meanwhile, data shows that as of July 2020, the government had ownership of 135 of the roughly 1,000 tracts of land it was looking to buy.

This is a relatively small problem that’s indicative of a larger issue regarding how the Biden administration wound down the border wall project — or rather, didn’t wind it down, but instead put a hard stop to it.

There are already issues with lost jobs and material that had been manufactured for the wall that’ll likely go to waste. One Arizona sheriff said infrastructure being used to build the wall that was just left there the moment Biden killed it had become “roads for the cartels,” making illegal border crossing easier.

Part of the hard stop involved freezing funds that were already appropriated by Congress to build the wall. Now, those funds are in limbo thanks to Biden’s executive orders.

For the landowners who sold but weren’t paid, that means the government owns their property but the money to buy it can’t be disbursed — and unfreezing the money doesn’t appear to be high on the administration’s list of concerns.

“You would have seen a major wall coming right through here, through those fields, coming all the way across and into the brush area, but no activity,” Villarreal said of his property.

“But even though they have put a stop to the wall, for now, I am sure they aren’t just going to start giving land back.”

It’s unclear how many landowners find themselves in the Villarreals’ situation. However, the crisis at the border might force the administration’s hand on this.

On Wednesday, according to Roll Call, 40 Senate Republicans sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office accusing Biden of violating federal law by putting a stop on congressionally appropriated money.

The letter was sent in the context of the decision to stop construction on the wall right as an influx of migrants hit.

“In the weeks that followed [the freeze], operational control of our southern border was compromised and a humanitarian and national security crisis has ensued,” the letter read. “The President’s actions directly contributed to this unfortunate, yet entirely avoidable, scenario.”

This argument might not win many hearts or minds at the GAO that weren’t already swayed; while a wall remains one of the few ways to ensure permanent security along the southern border regardless of administration policies, this particular part of the wall wouldn’t have been ready in time to make any difference in the current crisis.

However, the 40 GOP senators aren’t inaccurate when they note Biden’s action could be seen as a “blatant violation of federal law and infringe[s] on Congress’s constitutional power of the purse” via the Impoundment Control Act of 1974. That legislation ensured the executive branch couldn’t overtly interfere in congressional spending.

As for right now, however, the U.S. government owns the Villarreals’ property yet has tied up the money that was set aside to pay for it. This was all because, instead of winding down border wall construction responsibly or building what was paid for and calling it a day, the Biden administration wanted an executive order the newly inaugurated president could sign on day one.

When you stop border wall construction with the stroke of a pen and you’ve got people who are against the border wall and seemingly indifferent to illegal immigration talking to Fox News about how you screwed it up, however, maybe that wasn’t such a great idea after all.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture