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Resource January 4, 2018

Meet the Journalists: Kiah Collier and Julian Aguilar

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Juan Cavazos of Brownsville, Texas at the electronic gate in the border fence that runs through his property. Image by Martin do Nascimento for The Texas Tribune. United States, 2017.
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In the largest federal land seizure in 25 years, the Department of Justice filed more than 420...

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Scott Nicol, co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Campaign, stands in front of a concrete levee topped by the border fence in Hidalgo County. Environmentalists, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, say the barrier endangers wildlife because animals can't reach dry land during floods.  Image by Callie Richmond. United States, 2017.
Scott Nicol, co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Campaign, stands in front of a concrete levee topped by the border fence in Hidalgo County. Environmentalists, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, say the barrier endangers wildlife because animals can't reach dry land during floods. Image by Callie Richmond. United States, 2017.

A decade ago, the federal government swept into South Texas and began seizing land to build a border fence. The Texas Tribune and ProPublica's investigation of those seizures revealed a rushed, sloppy process that gave Texans wildly different payments for their land. Kiah Collier and Julian Aguilar made several trips to the border, shot drone footage of the fence and the border landscape, and convinced a handful of people now living in the shadow of the fence to tell stories of how a government "declaration of taking" led to a quick seizure of their land—followed by what in many cases became a long legal struggle over fair payment.

They also found documents that showed how political pressure to finish the fence quickly pushed federal agencies to take shortcuts that in many cases undercut a longstanding American principle that the government should not seize private land without providing fair compensation. In its rush to finish the fence, the government often skipped professional property appraisals, didn't obtain detailed descriptions of the land it wanted to seize, and in some cases paid people for land they didn't own.

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