October 30, 2008
by Kevin Sieff
Moving forward with its plans to construct a border fence in the Rio Grande Valley, the federal government has filed land condemnation lawsuits involving nine Cameron County properties whose owners are unknown, deceased or unresponsive.
In South Texas, where land deeds are often convoluted or outdated, it's a vital formality before construction on the barrier can begin.
"We're moving forward with our real estate proceedings," said Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the U.S Department of Homeland Security.
In cases of unknown ownership, the government must run an advertisement in local newspapers, informing the public of pending lawsuits. The two-page advertisement ran in Thursday's Brownsville Herald, detailing several swaths of property throughout the county.
As of Sept. 10, 97 landowners in the Valley had refused to sell their property to the federal government, according to a Government Accountability Office report. DHS officials say they've continued resolving cases, but they've encountered a number of convoluted deeds.
Judge Andrew Hanen will hear seven land condemnation lawsuits this morning - a fraction of the remaining cases.
After receiving its appropriation request from Congress, the DHS is continuing with its plans to complete the fence in the coming months. But with so many pending condemnation lawsuits - and no sign of construction in Cameron County - the government's initial Dec. 31 deadline appears increasingly unrealistic.