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South Texas officials sue to block Trump's 'racist' border wall

Laurel Calkins, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

South Texas elected officials claim in a new court challenge that President Donald Trump's border wall is a politically motivated attack on Mexican Americans, a protected class under the U.S. Constitution.

Zapata County officials allege that Trump's "hostile and racist remarks" led directly to Department of Homeland Security policies that deprive Mexican American citizens along the border of their property and cultural heritage in violation of constitutional due process guarantees, according to a complaint filed late Monday in Laredo federal court. The officials asked a federal judge to halt federal seizures of private border land, block construction activities, and reinstate the more than 27 laws waived by Trump officials to speed the wall-building effort.

The suit is different from previous legal challenges to the wall, which focused on allegations about misspending federal money and damaging the environment and historical landmarks. A suit by neighboring El Paso County accused Trump of hurting the local economy by portraying the border zone as dangerously overrun with criminals.

Echoing themes from the Black Lives Matter movement, Zapata County claims Trump's order to build the wall "creates a second-class United States citizen at the southern border who can have their land seized wholesale based on racist and white nationalist motives." The 51-page complaint cites more than three pages of racially inflamed Trump tweets and quotes in addition to a passage from former national security adviser John Bolton's book, in which Trump claims he was elected by promising to build a border wall and won't get reelected if he fails to deliver one.

"Like other communities of color, who have suffered comparable or worse injustices at the hands of the United States government," the plaintiffs seek to prove constitutional guarantees apply to brown-skinned citizens, according to the complaint. "Constitution-free zones do not exist on the U.S./Mexico border."

The county officials say the Trump administration consulted extensively about its wall-construction plans to minimize impacts on affluent white residents near San Diego, while doing little outreach to Mexican American citizens living along the Texas border.

The colonial town of San Ygnacio and much of Laredo, the nation's fourth largest border city and busiest international shipping port, would lose access to most of their municipal water supply, which would be stranded on the Rio Grande River behind Trump's wall. Zapata County, whose 14,000 residents lie just down river from Laredo, also claims landowners are being tricked into signing papers giving wall-builders access to their lands before the owners can contest the condemnations in court.

 

The administration's waiver of a raft of federal, state and local laws protecting environmental and cultural concerns has left Zapata County officials in the dark about "which local laws are active and can be enforced," according to the complaint.

The Justice Department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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