(CN) – Progress on President Donald Trump’s pet project – construction of a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border – has stalled as Congress has withheld funding, but the government’s renewed interest in buying South Texas land is raising concerns it’s doing groundwork for the wall.
Government lawyers published a 16-page notice early this month in the Brownsville Herald that listed the names of about 100 landowners, notifying the owners they have several weeks to contest the amount the government is offering for their land, the Associated Press reported.
Brownsville, population 183,000, is at the southeastern tip of Texas where the Rio Grande flows into the Gulf of Mexico. The Rio Grande marks the border between Texas and Mexico.
Some Brownsville residents already live in the shadow of a border wall, part of the 100 miles of fencing the United States built in Texas after Congress passed the Secure Fence Act in 2006.
To build that stretch, the government seized land through eminent domain, either paying landowners prior to construction, or building with permission from U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, before negotiating how much it would pay for the land under the fence.
Eminent domain is a government’s right to seize land for public use and pay owners for it. It’s also used by counties and states, typically for road-construction projects.
Hanen often criticized the nation’s immigration policies from the bench and in written orders under former President Barack Obama. He became a villain of immigrant-rights activists in 2015 when he blocked an Obama-era program intended to protect parents of U.S. citizens and residents from deportation.
A George W. Bush appointee, Hanen was the only district judge permanently stationed in Brownsville for years, during which he oversaw dozens of eminent domain cases the United States brought against owners of land along the Rio Grande.
The Justice Department reportedly posted the legal notice in the Brownsville Herald at the urging of Hanen, who asked them to settle the pending cases.
The Justice Department denies the notice is a step towards construction of more border fencing, according to the AP.
But Efren Olivares, a lawyer with the Texas Civil Rights Project, sees it as evidence the Trump administration has not lost sight of Trump’s campaign promise to build a “big, beautiful wall” stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
“This is a precursor for them to take more land for the border wall,” Olivares told the AP.