GAO: Border Patrol Causing Thousands Of Dollars In Property Damage

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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When immigrants and drug dealers illegally come into the U.S., they often cross through private property and cause thousands of dollars in damages, but U.S. Border Patrol agents are also damaging private property.

The Government Accountability Office spoke with 33 Southwestern landowners with property along the U.S.-Mexico border and reported that “the majority of damage is caused by illegal border crossers; however, 21 of these landowners said they had also experienced damage that may have resulted from Border Patrol as well as state law enforcement activities or were aware of such occurrences in their community.”

“For example, local landowners and law enforcement collected information on an ad hoc basis on private property damage from 2011 to 2014 in Kleberg, Jim Wells, Brooks, Duval, and Kenedy Counties in Texas, citing over $120,000 of fence and gate damage during that time period,” the GAO reported.

The GAO reviewed 851 claims filed against Border Patrol in 2013 and found that 16 were related to “private property damage along the southwest border. Of these claims, “a total of $27,383 in claims for $10,000 or less was submitted to [Border Patrol] for property damage, averaging $1,700 per incident, and a total of $11,622 was paid out to claimants.”

“On average, claims cases were closed in approximately 3.6 months from opening. Of the 16 related claims, 3 claims were granted in full, 4 were partially granted, and 9 were denied,” GAO reported.

“A farm manager told us that despite putting up a sign prohibiting Border Patrol’s use of dragging tires, a process used to clear footprints and other signs left by illegal border crossers, dragging was still occurring on this property, resulting in damaged crops,” GAO noted. “This farm manager explained that dust caused by dragging can be particularly harmful to grapefruit trees, which are plentiful in south Texas.”

How does border patrol damage property? During everyday activities, border agents might break fences and damage crops and livestock while patrolling the border. It’s gotten so bad for landowners in some areas, that they actually put ladders next to fences for illegal immigrants to use so they don’t damage any property.

“Some landowners in south Texas installed ladders along their fences to discourage illegal border crossers from damaging the fences in an attempt to circumvent Border Patrol,” GAO noted. “However, landowners told us that illegal border crossers are not using the provided ladders, and as a result, they are continuing to experience fence damage.”

The GAO reported that landowners who have their property damaged can file an “administrative tort claim” to be compensated for the damage, but most of the landowners GAO interviewed didn’t actually take advantage of this program.

“[F]ew landowners have filed such claims. Of the 821 [claims] filed during fiscal year 2013, 16 were related to private property damage along” the border, GAO reported.

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