Constitutional Law

Legal Representation Pays Off for Landowners Along US-Mexico Border Fence

Some 400 owners of residential and commercial property in Texas and some other states, are affected by an ongoing plan to build a 670-mile fence along the Mexican border.

Initial offers for their land were just a starting point, according to U.S. government officials. But for those who lack the sophistication or funding for legal representation, they can also be more or less a final offer, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, those represented by lawyers have gotten far more from the eminent domain process. While factors other than simply the amount of land involved can play a role in determining value, and the size of the parcels at issue varies considerably, offers to some individuals have been less than $2,000. Meanwhile, some owners of commercial property who have legal counsel have gotten seven-figure sums. Of $15 million already paid, 85 percent of the money went to one-third of the property owners, the news agency says.

Attorney Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, who represented some of the small landowners at the outset of the process, said the big price differential “underscores how unfair these original offers were.” The federal government “is using its power, its clout, to try to take land from people at a price that is unfair. I think that is clear based on the settlements,” she said.

Oscar Ceballos said he was at first offered $1,600 for a 60-foot strip of the property on which he has his home and his business. But, with the help of a legal-aid clinic that agreed to represent a group of landowners, he was able to get almost $40,000 more before calling a halt at a point where he would have had to start paying an attorney out of his own pocket.

Others, according to the article, were not so fortunate, and gave up when told fighting the valuation would cost tens of thousands of dollars.

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