Elana Schor in Washington and agencies
Friday May 16 2008
A group of Texas mayors and businessmen sued the Bush administration today over its planned fence along the Mexico border, saying they were forced to give up their property rights.
The Texas Border Coalition, as the group is known, accuses the US department of homeland security (DHS) of swindling landowners out of their property rights using threats of legal action and $100 cash payments.
"We shouldn't be building walls," Pat Ahumada, mayor of the border town of Brownsville, said. "We should be building alliances with Mexico. The wall is not the solution."
Lawyers for the border group are aiming to force a second look at some land purchases and a stay in construction of the 670-mile border fence, about half of which is already completed.
The fence has already drawn court challenges from two leading US environmental groups, the Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club. Homeland security officials waived more than 30 conservation laws in their rush to complete construction of the fence, aimed at deterring illegal immigration, before Bush leaves office.
A DHS spokeswoman said the administration has "nearly bent over backward" in dealings with 600 landowners in the four states that border Mexico: Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico.
The border group echoed questions that Democrats have raised about Texas oil magnate Ray Hunt, whose land the fence is scheduled to bypass. Hunt recently gave $35m to help his friend George Bush build a presidential library at a Texas university.
The Democratic Congress has vowed to take up the border fence this year, although the political volatility of immigration reform could derail any meaningful action during this presidential election year.
About half of the planned border fence will be made of reinforced concrete, with vehicle barriers comprising the rest of its length. The Berlin wall, by contrast, was 96 miles long, while the security fence on the border between Israel and Palestine will measure about 430 miles when completed.