Perhaps no promise of then-candidate Donald Trump was more widely known. Once president, he would build a wall — a beautiful wall, at that, he said — and make the Republic of Mexico “pay for it.”
Of course, American voters like benefits paid for by someone else — especially foreigners. But what about the very real cost to U.S. citizens of a border wall? Constructing a wall all the way along the southern border would run head-on into the private property rights of Americans, especially in Texas.
As Congressman Ron Paul wrote recently of Trump’s ambitious goal, “He is right to focus on the issue,” but “there are several reasons why his proposed solution will unfortunately not lead us anywhere closer to solving the problem.”
“Texas already started building a border fence about ten years ago,” Paul explained. “It divided people from their own property across the border, it deprived people of their land through the use of eminent domain.” (Emphasis added.)
Eminent domain is the power of a government to take private land for public use. Unfortunately, some mistakenly believe the Constitution gave the U.S. government the “right” of eminent domain in the Fifth Amendment. On the contrary, unlike most governments in the world at that time, the Fifth Amendment restricted that power in two ways: (1) the taking must be for a public use; and (2) it can only be taken with just compensation.
In the early years of our Republic, roads, bridges, and the like were the major projects that justified taking the private property of an American citizen, because the public could make actual use of a road or a bridge. In recent years, however, governments have (like most things) stretched the powers beyond the envelope of the original intent of the Constitution’s framers, claiming “public use” includes any legitimate “public purpose.” As a result, there have been numerous instances where developers have persuaded their local governments to “condemn” someone’s property so it can be seized by the government. While the government pays “compensation” to the property owner, to be sure, it should be understood that if the developer had to pay the new fair market value (because some wealthy developer wants to obtain the property, so the value has now gone up, under a free market situation), he could not get it as cheaply as he could after the government has seized it. In other words, forcing a person to give up his property for less money than he wishes to receive in order to part with it — so it can be given to some developer cheaper than he otherwise would have been forced to pay — is essentially legalized theft.
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