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Land commissioner plans to sell border property

SANTA FE – New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn plans to sell a roughly 7-acre parcel of state trust land along the Mexican border that contains an existing border barrier and roadway used by federal immigration agents.

The asking price? It could be yours for as little as $40,000.

The land in question is just east of the Santa Teresa border crossing, and its proposed sale could raise thorny legal questions about the state’s authority to sell borderland to a private buyer.

The land commissioner, a Republican-turned-Libertarian who is not running for re-election this year, insisted Thursday that he does have the power to do just that.

“As Commissioner Dunn is the sole authority over state trust lands, he believes he has every right to sell this particular piece of land,” State Land Office spokesman Gerald Garner said.

Meanwhile, the sale announcement marks the latest twist in Dunn’s testy relationship with the U.S. government. Earlier this year, Dunn set up a “no trespassing” sign along the same stretch of state trust land, demanding the federal government pay for the right of way to access a 60-foot-wide strip of borderland.

In announcing his intent to sell the state trust land, Dunn said Thursday that it will be auctioned off on the front steps of the Doña Ana County courthouse on Dec. 3, with a minimum bid of $40,000. The State Land Office would retain all underground mineral rights, as well as certain water rights.

At least one company has in the past claimed it purchased land along the border in an attempt to thwart President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the entire border.

However, some legal experts say such a strategy would likely be unsuccessful in the long run, due to the federal government’s power of eminent domain.

The area in question, along with other federal land, was granted to the Territory of New Mexico under the 1898 Ferguson Act. That means it predates a 1907 proclamation by President Theodore Roosevelt that established a 60-foot strip of borderland for the federal government as a protection against the smuggling of goods.

In all, New Mexico shares nearly 160 miles of border with Mexico, including some urban areas that are already fenced with 18-foot steel columns and rural stretches of low vehicle barriers.

Any revenue generated from New Mexico state trust land – from grazing leases, oil extraction and more – goes into a permanent fund that helps pay for the operations of public schools and universities.

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