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 SchumerSchumer slams Justice Dept over 'pre-damage control' on Mueller report Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Sanders welcomes fight with Trump over 'Medicare for all' | DOJ attorney in ObamaCare case leaving | NYC mayor defends vaccination mandate | Ohio gov signs 'heartbeat' abortion bill Dems see room for Abrams in crowded presidential field MORE (N.Y.) sent a letter this week to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenRick Perry planning to leave Trump administration: report Cummings invites Stephen Miller to testify before Oversight panel on 'troubling' immigration policies Arizona mayor declares emergency over feds dropping migrants off in community 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 DurbinCongress opens door to fraught immigration talks McConnell: 'Past time' for immigration-border security deal Overnight Defense: Transgender troops rally as ban nears | Trump may call more troops to border | National Guard expects 3M training shortfall from border deployment | Pentagon to find housing for 5,000 migrant children MORE (Ill.), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart Udall Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Overnight Energy: Interior watchdog opens investigation into new secretary | Warren unveils 2020 plan to stop drilling on public lands | Justices reject case challenging state nuclear subsidies | Court orders EPA to re-evaluate Obama pollution rule Interior watchdog launches ethics probe into new secretary MORE (N.M.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichLawmakers, tech set for clash over AI Why America needs the ability to track enemy missiles from space Overnight Energy: Bernhardt confirmed as Interior chief | Dems probing if EPA officials broke ethics rules | Senators offer bipartisan carbon capture bill 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.