“Justice Department attorneys are continuing to work on cases to seize land from property owners along the US-Mexico border, despite other cases being put on hold until the government reopens,” CNN reported last week.
According to a transcript dated January 15, in the Southern District Court of Texas, “federal attorneys are moving forward amid the shutdown.”
The judge in the case, Micaela Alvarez, acknowledged the shutdown in her opening remarks.
“In light of the fact that even with the shut down, I understand that the attorneys handling these matters on behalf of the Government are not being furloughed and they still have to appear—I wanted to get these cases disposed of as quickly as possible, one way or the other,” she said.
“This is all I’m allowed to work on, Your Honor,” said Assistant US Attorney Eric Paxton Warner.CNN
According to a spokesperson for the SDTX it is up to the discretion of the US Attorney “to determine excepted or not-excepted duties,” and “in collaboration and agreement with the Department of Justice” US Attorney Ryan Patrick for Texas’ Southern District has deemed “that ongoing border fence litigation … were excepted and will continue to be as long as the federal courts are open.”
However, CNN reported, “according to Justice Department guidance, in the event of a lapse in appropriations, civil litigation — which these cases fall under — “will be curtailed or postponed to the extent that this can be done without compromising to a significant degree the safety of human life or the protection of property.”
“Asset forfeiture litigators and affirmative civil litigators, for example, also continue to work.”
While the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) says they prefer “to acquire property through a voluntary, negotiated sale,” they would “consider eminent domain the future.”
In the transcripts, Judge Alvarez referred to the “six or seven attorneys” as “the golden children.”
The case before Judge Alvarez is one of 80 other outstanding cases resulting in the 2006 Secure Fence Act signed by Bush.
Regardless of whether funds are available, the government is pressing forward, indicating the significance of these cases in a heated debate over the border wall. The Justice Department also appears to be preparing for additional lawsuits in the area in the future: The department listed job postings for attorneys. Qualifications include “litigation of land condemnation cases.”CNN
Patrick, who was sworn in as USAG for SDTX in January 2018 said in a statement, “”Our work is not impacted by the shutdown. It is essential to public safety.”
For further reading: Catholic Church Battle Over Chapel in Way of Border Wall; Daily Beast
“La Lomita Chapel is the heart of one Texas border town. It may also be the latest casualty in Trump’s demands for a border wall.”
About 800 feet from the border, near a horseshoe bend in the Rio Grande separating the United States from Mexico, is the historic La Lomita Chapel.
The Catholic chapel, built in 1899 in Mission, Texas, is a white stone and wood single-room structure in the middle of an open field. It is now a tourist attraction because of its rich history as a site where Calvary of Christ missionaries performed baptisms, marriages, and funerals.
On Oct. 25, the government filed a “Declaration of Taking” motion to notify Diocese and Bishop Daniel Flores, who has led the diocese since 2009, of its intention to survey and potentially seize two properties in Hidalgo County, or about about 67 acres of church land, including La Lomita.