Only 632 miles of the 1,954-mile U.S./Mexican border, or 32.35 percent, belongs to the U.S. government. Some of that, approximately 120 miles, is tribal land. The remaining 1,322 miles is private property, leaving 67.65 in the hands of corporations, farmers, mineral-extraction firms, private landowners, and ranchers who have shaped their land to their unique needs. Most of the owners of these varied private properties cooperate with Customs and Border Protection and Department of Homeland Security agents. But there are some who have had a multitude of issues with federal agents on their land, and have filed suits with the ACLU, Congressional Liaison Offices, and the Government Accountability Office, and have made a stink in the media regarding the government’s use of eminent domain.

Many of their grievances and concerns are justified in regards to property damage and incursions by way of foreign trespass and federal agents. On the other hand, they live on an international border—one of the more notorious and unregulated borders in the Western Hemisphere. Their property stretches across an invisible line intended to define the United States of America, its ideas, laws, and way of life.

A significant number of private landowners along the border oppose any construction of anti-vehicular fencing, the notion of a wall, or the emplacement of anti-personnel sensors. Other landowners go so far as to restrict federal agents’ access to the border, forcing them to patrol only on foot, a task that is not only dangerous, but a waste of time and resources.

Despite the complaints and concerns of these private landowners, at what point does the federal government need to step in for the sake of national defense? That’s where we are on this debate with private landowners on the Mexican border: A childish shouting match between government officials and private landowners.

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On private property, this is a well-used direct-access boat ramp to the Rio Grande River in Texas. On the opposite shore, Mexico. Image courtesy of Buck Clay.

The issue of an unsecured border has bestowed upon our nation a heroin epidemic, a resurgence in slavery/human trafficking, and unrestricted means for foreign intelligence services to gain access to the continental United States. Reluctant private landowners often selfishly amplify these issues, placing their needs over their neighbors’ and those of their nation. Their land is often utilized by criminal enterprises smuggling materials, narcotics, and people over the border.

Meanwhile, they turn a blind eye to those issues, choosing instead to arrogantly cite rights that I would otherwise fully support. These unwilling land owners demand the best from their nation while pumping a pipeline of sewage directly into it. It’s a truly toxic one-way relationship; you don’t need Dr. Phil to point out that America is the abused partner in this relationship.

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The federal government began an eminent domain practice in 2012, offering payouts between $1,650 to $1 million depending on the acreage of land being purchased. Private landowners argue that such efforts to secure the border violate their way of life. But isn’t their negligence impacting the “way of life” of the rest of the United States?

Farmers and ranchers I spoke to on the border cited fears of losing their identity, suggesting their culture was disappearing and their ways were becoming too “Mexican.” Others were battling against clear economic woes; larger farms and ranches are undercutting their sales, and many of these private landowners are going well into debt with no plan to escape it. Some were simply bitter that their neighbors received high-price buyouts for mineral rights on their land or eminent domain.

An unidentified few of these landowners are suspected by federal agents of being paid by criminal enterprises to oppose federal activity on their land, and to continue to grant access for criminals. A very select few are the true holdouts who simply oppose government in all ways, on principle alone.

Cattle as well as outsiders roam freely on the border. Image courtesy of Buck Clay.

As for the private landowners who comply with federal agents who traverse their land for the purpose of patrolling the border, their assistance is appreciated, but landscape and navigational restrictions on their property make it difficult to reach the border or provide timely backup to agents in need.

All emotion aside, it doesn’t make sense for a nation to permit any of its national territorial borders to be ruled by private interest. The risk is too high, and it’s being exploited, as tunnels are being found running directly into border-front property.

Currently, the ability to maintain security on the Mexican border is complicated by a number of mounting political policy issues. Physical security has been left with the front door off the hinges due to political negligence. It’s time to make the difficult decision to piss of some people and implement eminent domain along the border.

A massive incursion is not needed—simply 500 meters (+/-) along the border to construct an access road and the necessary protective measures based on area threats. Fundamentally, a two-lane road along the expanse of the border is desperately needed to allow federal agents unhindered border access and to minimize federal agent incursions on private property. A two-lane road would allow federal agents in the field space to maneuver, and would provide any needed backup in the field a means to reach them in a timely manner.

Featured image: A cattle fence on private property destroyed by illegal border activity. Image courtesy of Buck Clay