H.R. 2538 would create a commission to address the validity of claims
asserted by the descendants of Mexican citizens to land in New Mexico based
on 19th century Spanish and Mexican community land grants. The
Administration is sympathetic to those individuals who believe their land
claims have been inappropriately or unfairly handled. However, the
Administration opposes the bill because its approach is flawed and
In summary, this bill would renew land title disputes that already have
been resolved by an international agreement or operation of law, in many
cases over 50 years ago. It would create a process that provides no legal
standards or rules of evidence, no means for final resolution of these
reopened claims, and no judicial review. In addition, this bill could
disrupt Federal land managers' abilities to carry out their duties,
including protection of natural resources and of existing uses and rights
on Federal land including grazing, hunting, fishing, and mineral and water
rights. A fuller explanation of these issues is presented below.
Consideration of these claims would renew land title disputes that have
already been fully and finally resolved either by the 1941 Claims
Settlement Agreement between the United States and Mexico, or through
adjudication. Any claims not previously adjudicated are barred by relevant
statutes of limitation, which are based on fundamental policy concerns of
fairness, finality, and resource conservation.
In addition, the bill envisions that public lands would be removed from
Federal ownership to satisfy these claims, thus disrupting Federal land
management activities. These activities include the conservation and
preservation of national forests, monuments, parks, wilderness areas, wild
and scenic rivers, and cultural and prehistoric sites. Further,
recreation, hunting, and fishing on Federal lands would be adversely
affected, and valid existing rights to, or interests in, water, timber,
grazing, and minerals on Federal lands may be disturbed.
Further, H.R. 2538 would institute a flawed process. Although it is
claimed that H.R. 2538 is modeled on the Indian Claims Commission Act
(ICCA), the ICCA provided for monetary compensation, not the reconstitution
of land grants. Moreover, the ICCA provided for judicial determination of
claims, according to certain legal standards and subject to the appellate
process. H.R. 2538 does not appear to provide any legal standards or rules
of evidence and does not allow for judicial review of the commission's
recommendations before they are submitted to Congress.
Finally, H.R. 2538 could have several other problematic results for both
land claimants and private landowners. The existence of the Commission
will raise unrealistic expectations that land claims now closed will be
addressed. Furthermore, although private land cannot be transferred under
H.R. 2538, the commission's recommendations pertaining to claims to private
lands could cloud private land titles. Although H.R. 2538 would affect
only lands in New Mexico, 19th century land claims in many other states
were resolved in a manner similar to those in New Mexico. This bill's
passage would logically prompt calls for the creation of similar
commissions in other States with the attendant problems outlined above.
H.R. 2538 would affect receipts; therefore, it is subject to the
pay-as-you-go requirement of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990.
OMB's preliminary scoring estimate of this bill is zero. Final scoring of
this legislation may deviate from these estimates. If H.R. 2538 were
enacted, final OMB scoring estimates would be published within seven
working days of enactment, as required by OBRA. The cumulative effects of
all enacted legislation on direct spending and receipts will be reported to
Congress at the end of the congressional session, as required by OBRA.