Thursday, December 18, 2008
Texas landowners win small victory on border fence
By CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN Associated Press Writer © 2008 The Associated Press
Dec. 18, 2008, 6:24PM
McALLEN, Texas — Dozens of South Texas landowners whose land is being condemned for the border fence scored a victory when a federal judge ordered that juries will decide the value of their property rather than an appointed land commission as the government had requested.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen set the stage for a series of trials to begin in March with his order signed Wednesday. While the trials will be restricted to determining how much the government pays landowners for the property, it gives Texas landowners their first opportunity to take an issue related to the border fence before a jury.
"I'm proud of him, he's doing his job," Eloisa Tamez, a landowner facing condemnation near Brownsville, said Thursday. "To have this kind of news before the holidays is like a Christmas gift for me."
The federal government has filed more than 300 condemnation lawsuits against South Texas landowners to make way for portions of the 670 miles of fencing it is building along the U.S.-Mexico border. So far about 500 miles is up, but it has been slow going in the Rio Grande Valley, where opposition is widespread.
Federal prosecutors had argued that the number of jury trials would swamp the courts, result in uneven payments and be extremely complex. A panel of land experts appointed by the court would be a more efficient option and more fair since it would be difficult to find enough unbiased jurors in an area where the fence has been a hot-button issue for months, the government said.
But Hanen, based in Brownsville, sided with landowners, 28 of whom are set for trial next year and all requested juries. The U.S. Attorney's Office did not immediately return a call for comment.
"This court is a firm believer in the jury system and the ability of everyday citizens to set aside their personal beliefs, biases and prejudcies to decide cases solely on the evidence presented within the context of a court's instructions," Hanen wrote in his order.
Hanen also cast doubt on the government's claim that about 80 cases will eventually need juries to determine land values. He suggested that even among the 28 cases scheduled for trial so far, similar parcels could be clustered in groups of three to be heard by the same jury. Most property owners settled with the government out of court.
The condemnations range from a quarter acre to more than 12 acres, but in many cases those are just slivers taken from tracts covering hundreds of acres north of the Rio Grande. Land commissions are generally believed to award lower compensation than juries, eminent domain attorneys say.
Each case will offer its own complexities, from calculating the impact on hunting leases to the value of the land left in the no-man's land between the fence and the river.
Kimberli Loessin, an attorney representing some of the landowners, wrote in an e-mail, "Landowners are pleased and believe that Judge Hanen did the right thing."
El Calaboz, Lower Rio Grande Valley, TX
December 18, 2009A year ago… the hostile enforcement policies of the US DHS/Secure Border Initiative against ancient border communities came to the foreground in landmark struggles on the Texas-Mexico border. The construction of the border wall through the middle of ancient, Rio Grande communities, forced Eloisa Garcia Tamez, (Lipan Apache), and community elders of El Calaboz Rancheria, as well as numerous poor Native land owners along the Rio Grande to stop the U.S. DHS from taking the community’s lands, ancient burials, archaeological resources, botanical and medicinal riparian zones, and their pastoral ways of life dependent upon cattle, grazing rights, water rights and Indigenous Peoples’ communal lifeways. The conflict raised constitutional, civil, and human rights in the face of intensified government force to pressure the community in numeros ways to surrender their lands.
Along the way… a robust independent media, and grass-roots network exposed deep corruption among local elites, scandal, and repressive government regimes managing the dispossession of the region’s poor Indigenous Peoples and persons along the Rio Grande's banks.
One year later…approximately eighty landowners continue to litigate their ancestral and communal land claims along the Texas-Mexico border. Success is measured in Chertoff's failures to wall in the resisting communities. Their firm resistances--based in living their daily lives and developing new strategies borrowed from older generations, from coalitions with like-minded grass roots Indigneous persons and groups; and working with allied media, law, grassroots, NGO's, nonprofits, faith-based communities, immigrant rights communities has enlarged the capacity of the prayer. Resistance and ceremony take on new meanings as the struggle continues.
Faith v. Greed...The new layer of corruption, beyond 'holes in the wall', is 'rigged jury system' and 'corrupt appraiser racket', whereby the U.S. and local industry leaders have attempted to shut out any possibility of a fair jury trial for litigants. 'Not on my shift', is fundamentally the message issued from Judge Hanen, in a ruling yesterday. Empaneled jurors will prevail, at least, as long as the resistance to oppressive government and industries continues.
Some of the land claims, such as Eloisa Garcia Tamez’, pre-date the United States as a sovereign nation, and are directly connected to Lipan Apache (Nde') peoples' struggles against forced colonization and dispossession by Spain, Texas, Mexico and the U.S. The Indigenous Peoples rights to exist as self-determining communities is gaining traction, in a region with a history of slavery, Jim Crow, hacendado culture, and harsh repression. In the face of increasing public criticism of the border wall, and claims of human rights violations before the Inter-American Commission/OAS, Indigenous Peoples are reframing and redefining the border wall conflict. We are organizing our networks around a framework of ‘Indigenous Peoples & Principles.’