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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDon’t look for House GOP to defy Trump on border wall GOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats National emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win MORE (N.Y.) sent a letter this week to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenImmigrant advocacy groups seek restraining order to block Trump asylum policy The Hill's Morning Report - Trump faces mounting challenges to emergency declaration 2,000 asylum seekers return home, decide to stay in Mexico: report 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 DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinKids confront Feinstein over Green New Deal Senate plots to avoid fall shutdown brawl Overnight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run MORE (Ill.), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallHillicon Valley: House panel takes on election security | DOJ watchdog eyes employee texts | Senate Dems urge regulators to block T-Mobile, Sprint deal | 'Romance scams' cost victims 3M in 2018 Dems urge regulators to reject T-Mobile, Sprint merger Dems wary of killing off filibuster MORE (N.M.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Defense: Dems aim to block use of defense funds for wall | Watchdog issues new warning on Syria withdrawal | Trump wants to 'watch Iran' from Iraq Senate Dems introduce bill to block Trump from using military funds to build wall Puerto Rico statehood supporters pin hopes on House action 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.