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Schumer wants answers from Trump on eminent domain at border

Schumer wants answers from Trump on eminent domain at border
© Stefani Reynolds

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden 'encouraged' by meeting with congressional leaders on infrastructure Republicans welcome the chance to work with Democrats on a bipartisan infrastructure bill Cheney sideshow distracts from important battle over Democrats' partisan voting bill MORE (N.Y.) sent a letter this week to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenLeft-leaning group to track which companies hire former top Trump aides Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' House Republican condemns anti-Trump celebrities during impeachment hearing MORE demanding more information about how the administration plans to use eminent domain against private landholders to build a border wall.

Schumer and fellow Democratic Sens. Dick DurbinDick DurbinPolice reform talks hit familiar stumbling block Biden's internal polling touts public support for immigration reform The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting MORE (Ill.), Tom UdallTom UdallStudy: Chemical used in paint thinners caused more deaths than EPA identified Oregon senator takes center stage in Democratic filibuster debate Bipartisan bill seeks to raise fees for public lands drilling MORE (N.M.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSenate votes to nix Trump rule limiting methane regulation Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap Democrats battle over best path for Puerto Rico MORE (N.M.) are raising concerns about a 153-year-old chapel in the Rio Grande Valley. The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit seeking an easement to build on the property.

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The lawmakers warned that the administration’s effort to invoke eminent domain against the Roman Catholic diocese threatens to infringe on religious freedom.

“The Trump administration’s lawsuit against the diocese raises important questions on the exercise of eminent domain to build a border wall and the impact it will have on religious organizations and American taxpayers,” the senators wrote in Thursday's letter.

The diocese has challenged the Trump administration’s claim of eminent domain, arguing that building a border wall on its property is inconsistent with Catholic values and would restrict access to La Lomita Chapel.

The four senators pointed out in their letter that the Trump administration has not provided detailed information about how many landowners will lose property along the U.S.-Mexico border or the timetable for acquiring land.

About 67 percent of the property along the border does not belong to the federal government, meaning the administration would need to seize significant amounts of land to build the wall.

Trump defended the use of eminent domain in a Rose Garden appearance earlier this month.

“Eminent domain is something that has to be used, usually you would say for anything that’s long, like a road, like a pipeline or like a wall or a fence,” he said.

He told reporters that his administration would use eminent domain only when landholders refuse to sell land needed to construct the wall. He also pledged to pay fair prices.

“I think it’s a fair process. I think it’s a process that’s very necessary, but I think it’s fair,” Trump said. “A lot of times we’ll make a deal, and I would say a good percentage of time we’re making deals.”

He said a lot of the money the administration has received for border security has been spent on purchasing land to build barriers.

The senators warned in their letter to Nielsen that the federal government “must exercise extreme caution when seizing private property with respect to sacred sites like La Lomita Chapel.”

“Eminent domain should not be invoked in violation of any religious organization’s First Amendment right of free exercise of religion,” they wrote.

The lawmakers asked the Homeland Security secretary to inform them by month’s end how many religious organizations and citizens will have their land seized through eminent domain to build a wall.

They have also asked for the estimated costs and timetable for planned land seizures and demanded to know whether Homeland Security has ever waived or plans to waive the requirements of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to build a wall.