HIDALGO COUNTY, Texas — As a candidate, President Joe Biden promised, if elected, his government would withdraw the lawsuits aimed at taking land for border wall construction. Six months into his administration that hasn’t happened.
In fact, dozens of lawsuits are still being litigated, according to the Department of Justice and the pro-bono attorneys representing some of the landowners.
Pam Rivas has one of those lawsuits. She’s been fighting to keep her Hidalgo County land for over a decade.
“We are standing on the property that I used to live on,” Rivas said. “It's been in the family, you know, years. I'd love to be able to have a home here, a little area just to come hang out and just love the noise, peaceful birds, the cicadas.”
Rivas’ fight started three presidents ago when the United States Government decided to try to take her land on the Rio Grande.
“It would cut me off from the river,” she said. “And to me, that's the beauty of this place, being able to go on my property down to the river. It's been uneasy not knowing what's going to happen.”
Rivas said she hoped President Biden was going to keep his promise of stopping border wall land cases.
“I thought, ‘You know, he's president and he wasn't for the border wall. I thought it was going to end there. But apparently not.”
At President Biden’s direction, the border wall construction stopped. The Department of Justice told KENS 5 the government was reviewing all pending border wall land eminent domain actions and reassessing if the land previously acquired was still necessary, after environmental planning activities have been completed.
“The problem is that's like six months too late,” said Ricky Garza, staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project working on Rivas’ case. “We are down to the wire. In our first case, we have a hearing to set trial on September 14th. In the case of Pamela Rivas. [The government] could dismiss all the cases -- it's something they can easily do. And they have not done at all in this case. And we have no idea what the holdup is.”
The Department of Justice says that if the Department of Homeland Security determined the land was necessary for life, safety, environmental or other remediation work, it was going to talk to the owners. If DHS determined the land wasn’t necessary, it would return it.
DOJ says approximately 65 to 70 cases were still pending in Texas. DOJ said it continued to respond to court orders and litigate cases to make sure repairs were completed around existing construction areas, including those along what the government refers to as compromised levees.
Garza said if Rivas’ case goes to court, he thought it would be the first-ever jury trial for a border wall condemnation case -- at least in Texas, Garza believed.
Even after 13 years of fighting, Rivas says she’s not done.
“Going to fight it till I can't anymore,” she said.
Her land was not for the taking.
“Why is the government just taking so long?” she asked. “I don't think that's right.”
In September, Rivas told KENS 5 her fight reached a major milestone when a judge returned her property to her on Sept. 21.