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Why the Texan Republican who represents the border doesn’t want a wall

A falcon flies over the Chisos Basin in the Big Bend National Park in West Texas.
Getty Images
A falcon flies over the Chisos Basin in the Big Bend National Park in West Texas.

Will Hurd is a Republican member of the US House of Representatives. His district, which stretches from the suburbs of San Antonio to the outskirts of El Paso, also contains the largest swathe of the US-Mexico border of anyone in Congress. And because the sections of the border that pass through California, Arizona, and New Mexico are overwhelmingly already protected by physical barriers of one kind or another (some of it a wall, some of it more like a fence) he represents far and away the majority of the land through which Trump's new physical border would be built.

And he's not excited about it. Appearing on CNN Friday morning, he described it as "wasting hard-earned taxpayer dollars." Thursday he called it "unnecessary" and "too expensive" in separate remarks.

All that is probably true. But there's a deeper angle to Hurd's opposition, at least according to people in Texas I've spoken to over the years. To build a wall through Hurd's district, the federal government will need to literally seize the land of Hurd's constituents.

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There are two big ways that Texas's border differs from the stretches in Arizona and New Mexico. One is that because Texas was never a federal territory (it was part of Mexico and then, briefly, an independent country), the federal government doesn't have the kind of vast landholdings in Texas that it has in the rest of the Southwest. The other is that Texas portion of the border is squiggly, largely following natural features, rather than a straight, wall-like line.

Some of the border area in Hurd's district is actually Big Bend National Park, which is not a great place to build a wall for separate reasons. Another piece is Lake Amistad which, again, would be a strange thing to build a wall through. But between those features you have a squiggly border running through privately owned land.

"A border wall — unlike a parking garage for an Atlantic City casino — is pretty clearly a public function, so the constitutional issue wouldn't necessarily arise. Nonetheless, it's generally the case that people don't like it when the government comes in to take their land."

Trying to literally conform a border wall to this fractal terrain would be ridiculous. Any feasible construction project is going to need to be straighter than the actual border, which is going to mean using the federal government's eminent domain powers to take privately owned land and basically redraw the border. This has been a flashpoint between Trump and elements of the ideological right in the past, since he's an enthusiastic proponent of using eminent domain to benefit private economic development projects, which many conservatives regard as unconstitutional.

A border wall — unlike a parking garage for an Atlantic City casino — is pretty clearly a public function, so the constitutional issue wouldn't necessarily arise. Nonetheless, it's generally the case that people don't like it when the government comes in to take their land. And they particularly don't like it when the government is coming in to take their land primarily so that the president of the United States can avoid admitting that one of his campaign promises was kind of dumb.

Unauthorized immigration from Mexico has already slowed to a trickle (indeed, by most estimates more people are leaving than arriving), and the un-walled area in particular has almost no border crossings since it's in the middle of nowhere.