The Biden administration will return land that was seized from a Texas family to build a border wall with Mexico, according to a court filing Tuesday, ending the family’s years-long legal battle against the federal government.
The government claimed 6.5 acres of land located along the Rio Grande River in Mission, Texas, via eminent domain in 2018. It wasn’t legally seized until earlier this year, despite legal objections by owner Eloisa Cavazos and her family.
“It’s been in our family for generations,” Cavazos’ sister, Baudila Cavazos Rodriguez, told HuffPost on Wednesday. Rodriguez said the land was first owned by her grandmother and passed on to her father when he returned from serving in World War II. Her brother and sister today make a living by renting small houses on it to vacationers who enjoy boating and fishing on the river.
“That’s kind of their livelihood. We were afraid we were going to lose all that because of the wall,” she said.
The family had been offered $347,887 in compensation for the property so that a wall could be built with the purpose of keeping migrants from crossing into the U.S. without authorization.
Properties on both sides of that belonging to the Cavazos family were readily developed for this purpose, Rodriguez said, with walls erected to the east and west of their property. One of the walls, which was privately funded by an organization related to Steve Bannon — the former chief strategist to President Donald Trump who is currently charged with contempt of Congress — was built directly on the banks of the Rio Grande and is already eroding, she said.
“For us, it’s a useless waste of money that could be used for better things,” Rodriguez said of the wall, which Trump sought $5.7 billion to erect as part of a 2016 campaign promise. “Growing up, we saw people crossing the river but it was people who were seeking a better life, it was never what they say in the news, that it’s dangerous people or things like that. We were always taught to treat people the same.”
In April, the federal government took immediate possession of the land through a federal court ruling, despite President Joe Biden signing a proclamation on his first day in office ― just three months earlier ― that paused construction on all border walls. Like Rodriguez, Biden called the wall a “waste of money” and “not a serious policy solution.” But his administration failed to withdraw from or ask to dismiss more than 100 eminent domain cases, Politico reported in April, leading to the government taking possession of the family’s land this spring.
Fortunately, Rodriguez said, the government had not yet touched the land. She credited the Texas Civil Rights Project, which provided legal representation for the family and some of the others whose land was seized, with helping keep their fight alive.
“Sometimes I think that they do this to poor landowners who can’t afford high-priced lawyers and it doesn’t happen to other people that can pay,” she said. “So that’s why we’re very grateful to the Texas Civil Rights Project.”
A spokesperson for the Texas Civil Rights Project told HuffPost that this was the organization’s final case involving land being seized for the border wall.
The White House did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.