border wall
Gus Bova

Many Texans Want a Border Wall Without a Federal Land Grab. That’s Impossible.

A new poll shows a substantial number of Texans pine for a wall that wouldn’t require the use of eminent domain — a logistical impossibility.


A poll released Tuesday by Quinnipiac University reveals that many Texans hold an entirely untenable view on Trump’s border wall. Respondents were evenly split, 48 to 48 percent, on whether to build a wall along the Texas-Mexico border. Yet they also opposed the federal government seizing private property to build the wall by a margin of 62 to 33 percent. That means roughly 15 percent of respondents desire a wall without the nastiness of eminent domain — an impossible proposition.

As a reporter covering the border wall, I encounter people suffering all kinds of confusion about all sorts of things. People ask: Which side of the Rio Grande will the wall be built on? Where will the new border be? And so on. So let’s set the record straight: In Texas, the border is a river, and 95 percent of the adjoining land — about 1,200 miles — is privately owned. The wall must be built north of the river, sometimes hundreds of yards north, and that means wrenching land from deeply rooted Hispanic families, entrepreneurs, priests, farmers, hobbyist ranchers and insect enthusiasts.

Existing concrete levee-wall with steel bollards on top in Hidalgo County.  Gus Bova

Texas isn’t like other border states, where the feds have owned a 60-foot strip of land along the U.S.-Mexico divide since 1907. There’s no pretty, smooth or easy way to get this wall thing done here. That’s why the vast majority of the wall built a decade ago went to other states.

Last month, a Boy Scout here in Texas emailed me in response to an article I’d written about a Texas landowner set to lose his land to Trump’s wall. Writing to a journalist was part of earning a merit badge. “I personally support the wall and its construction,” the scout wrote. “Anyways, the man’s home/farm you talked about is an unfortunate situation. Maybe they could build around it keeping it in Texas?”

I wrote back to explain there was no way around it. Many families have had their land along the Rio Grande since Texas was Spain — but the wall doesn’t care. I wrote that if he was really concerned about the homes and farms of fronterizos, maybe he didn’t actually support the wall. After all, the feds could deploy less invasive technology to achieve their border security goals, leaving Texans’ property intact. I haven’t heard back from the scout, though I hope he got that badge.