Up against the wall: DOJ seeks eminent domain for barrier in Texas, but postpones asylum cases

January 22, 2019

Thirty-one days and counting into the partial government shutdown, President Donald Trump still is hitting a brick wall in his demands for Congress to approve his $5.7 billion budget for a “barrier” on the U.S.-Mexico border.

But, Vox reports, that hasn’t stopped Justice Department attorneys from working to seize private land for the barrier by eminent domain, even as they have to postpone most other lawsuits due to the shutdown. Government attorneys even filed a new case in January, after the shutdown began.

And all of this is happening, even after DOJ instructed federal attorneys to postpone any lawsuits that weren’t necessary to safeguard “the safety of human life or the protection of property” until the shutdown was over. The Trump administration has even put cases on hold that it previously has argued are essential to national security, the news outlet says—including the lawsuit over its asylum ban, which has been put on hold by a federal judge in California.

Indeed, the news outlet reports, land condemnation cases in the Southern District of Texas, where the Trump administration has declared its interest in building 104 miles of bollard fencing, are still “chugging along.”

The Texas Civil Rights Project is representing defendants in two active eminent domain cases to date—with a third coming up soon and many more in the works—and has seen no evidence of a shutdown delay.

In a hearing on a government lawsuit over a tiny, tent-of-an-acre parcel, Judge Micaela Alvarez noted that “even with the shutdown, I understand that the attorneys handling these matters on behalf of the Government are not being furloughed and they still have to appear.” The attorney for the Southern District of Texas confirmed it: “This is all I’m allowed to work on.”

It has been more than ten days since the Department of Justice has received funding from Congress, Vox points out. Since then, the agency has been allowed by law only to do certain things— either activities that don’t require funding from Congress or actions that are essential to the functioning of government or the protection of human life or property.

Lawsuits from immigrants seeking habeas corpus petitions to be released from detention have been delayed for the shutdown. So has ongoing litigation in the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Research contact: Dara Linddara@vox.com

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