First lawsuit filed challenging national emergency

3 RGV landowners, Frontera Audubon Society are plaintiffs

By Jessie Degollado - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - Ahead of what’s expected to be a wave of legal challenges, Public Citizen, a national consumer advocacy group, was the first to file a lawsuit to invalidate President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency.

“Obviously, we wanted to make a statement right away, right out of the gate,” said Robert Weissman, an attorney and president of Public Citizen.

He said the declaration was “illegal and unconstitutional” to try to get around Congress denying the president the money he wanted for the border wall.

By trying to overturn the national emergency declaration, Weissman said, the lawsuit differs from other legal action in the past over eminent domain. He said land could be condemned and seized under a national emergency, which is why three landowners in the Rio Grande Valley are among the plaintiffs.

“It would push half of their property in some cases on the wrong side of the wall, the part they wouldn’t have access to," Weismann said.

The land owners believe there is no national emergency, Weismann said. He said one of the plaintiffs has owned her property more than 40 years, and in that time, “She’s not seen a migrant, not hordes, not small groups, not one.”

The Frontera Audubon Society in Weslaco, Texas, also joined the lawsuit, but not because its 15-acre natural preserve, located several miles from the Rio Grande, is in jeopardy.

Jim Chapman said he and other members of the Frontera Audubon Society board of directors voted unanimously to protect the brush along the Rio Grande that serves as critical wildlife habitat. He said not only would more land be cleared to make way for the wall, but access by wildlife to the river could be blocked.

“(It's) wildlife that’s trying to get to water but can’t. And the wildlife that would need to flee water at times of flood, they can’t escape,” Chapman said. “It’s a double whammy.”

He said when the Rio Grande floods, creatures are swept away or drown.

In addition to the impact on wildlife, Chapman said he estimates the Rio Grande Valley could lose a half-billion dollars yearly in nature tourism.

“It’s doing so much harm, and yet, it will do so little good," Chapman said.

Weissman said Public Citizen will seek a summary judgment on its lawsuit, but it’s also predicted legal challenges could take months or years and may eventually end in the U.S. Supreme Court.

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