A federal judge confirmed yesterday that a Texas family will have their land immediately seized by eminent domain for a U.S.-Mexico border wall—the very type of confiscation that President Joe Biden expressly promised he would put a stop to.
"We are utterly devastated," said Baudilia Cavazos, whose family owns land in Hidalgo County, Texas. "We thought President Joe Biden would protect us. Now we've lost our land. We don't even know what comes next."
The Cavazos clan has fended off similar attempts at confiscation for years. When former President Donald Trump took office, his administration sought to claim about 7 acres and divide their land—which they rent to various tenants—in two. A huge chunk of their property would thus be nearly inaccessible to prospective customers, paralyzing their business.
"I retired five years ago—I taught for 40 years," Eloisa Cavazos told Reason in 2018. "This is my income that I use for my retirement."
She may have to find a new source of revenue. "The Court already addressed many of Defendant's arguments—including the United States' compliance with statutory requirements, whether the taking was arbitrary and capricious, and whether the United States satisfied the negotiation requirements," wrote District Judge Micaela Alvarez of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. "For the same reasons outlined above, the Court rejects Defendant's argument that immediate possession should be delayed on these bases."
The Biden administration could well have stopped yesterday's ruling, handed down by Alvarez in McAllen, Texas. On his first day in office, Biden issued a proclamation pausing border wall construction for 60 days to determine if any land needed to be confiscated. That 60 days came and went without a decision.
Yet he was insistent the decision was already made on the campaign trail. "There will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration," he told NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro in August of last year. And the land seizures? "End, end, end, stop, done, over. Not gonna do it. Withdraw the lawsuits. We're out."
He did not, in fact, withdraw the lawsuits. "Yesterday, we witnessed a betrayal of the Biden Administration's commitment to end construction of the border wall," said Ricky Garza, an attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project, in a statement. "In federal court, the President's pause on border wall construction is meaningless without immediate action from the DOJ to dismiss these cases."
The news marks yet another promise broken by Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, both of whom cast themselves as foils to Trump's merciless immigration program. Their administration is defending Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after the agency set up a fake college, charged immigrant students thousands of dollars, and then deported them without refunds. Not unlike Biden did with land seizures, Harris in 2019 called out the ruse and declared that "officials must be held accountable." Biden has also continued the practice of separating some families at the border, and in various ways has restricted asylum claims even more than his predecessor.
The Cavazoses, including Eloisa's brother Fred Cavazos and Rey Anzaldua, their first cousin, have watched their land dwindle over the years. Descendants of 1700s-era Spanish settlers, the family began with 18,000 acres.
"Now we probably have no more than 150 acres," Anzaldua told Reason's Mark McDaniel three years back. "That's a lot of land to lose."
They're about to hemorrhage more. "We're liable to lose about 10 acres, three barns, and two houses," said Anzaldua, "so when they asked if I could help with this, I said, 'Yes, I've got ties to this land just like you do. This is our grandmother's land.'"
Despite all of Biden's promises to the contrary, it is now the government's land.