Tuesday’s Department of Justice budget proposal asks Congress for $1.8 million to “meet litigation, acquisition, and appraisal demands during the construction along the border between Mexico and the United States.”
The money will be used to devote 20 new staff members, including 12 attorneys, to the Environmental and Natural Resources Division’s Land Acquisition Section (LAS). This small section of the DOJ handles litigation that arises when the federal government uses its “eminent domain” power to seize land for public projects. The new money and staff is be devoted to the southern border, where according to an overview released by the Department, just two LAS attorneys are currently working with a budget of only $329,000. The proposal represents a six-times increase in attorneys and a six-times increase in funding for LAS assistance with construction along the border.
No “wall” is mentioned in the budget proposal, and DOJ officials were reluctant to confirm that the massive scaling up at LAS was specifically linked to the wall. “We do not have border wall money in the Department of Justice budget,” Assistant Attorney General Lee Lofthus, head of DOJ’s Justice Management Division, assured reporters at a press conference announcing the proposal. Wall construction and the decision to purchase of the land necessary for it is not typically seen as a part of the DOJ’s mission. Tuesday’s budget proposals for border security and the Department of Homeland Security do, in fact, ask Congress for billions of dollars in funding increases. Up to $1.6 billion is claimed to be devoted to “a physical wall” along the southern border. A Department of Justice press official confirmed that decisions as to which land to acquire for border security purposes would most likely be made at DHS.
Defense of federal land acquisition, on the other hand, is squarely the Department of Justice’s responsibility. The LAS handles the wide variety of lawsuits and legal complications that can arise when the government purchases and condemns land for any major federal project. By all estimations, any border wall would have significant land use implications. Asked by Breitbart News if there was any specific issue compelling the department to request the addition of ten new LAS lawyers on the southern border, Assistant Attorney General Lofthus said that there was not, and made clear it was a precautionary measure based on the possibility of any number of challenges — eminent domain, environmental, etc. — that could have been made to the administration’s efforts on border security.
Other big-ticket immigration enforcement requests for DOJ included $75 million to fund the 75 new immigration judges and their nearly 400 staff attorneys and support staff previously announced to deal with the massive backlog of pending removal cases. This will represent a nearly 25% increasing in federal immigration judges at the Executive Office for Immigration Review. The first of this new wave of immigration judges was sworn in earlier this month. For the nation’s criminal courts, the DOJ is asking for $7.2 to deploy 70 new assistant United States attorneys to handle exclusively immigration cases. New guidelines issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions mandate far lower thresholds for referral for felony prosecution for illegal re-entry and harboring of illegal aliens than under previous administrations. Along with the rest of the Trump administration’s budget proposal, it now lies in the hands of Congress to approve the Department of Justice’s requests for immigration enforcement. The current continuing funding resolution expires in September.