By Miriam Raftery
February 17, 2019 (Washington D.C.) –President Donald Trump has signed a compromise bill to keep the government from shutting down again, but issued an emergency declaration Friday to build a border wall in defiance of Congressional wishes. Both the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic-controlled House previously refused to allocate $5 billion requested by Trump for the border wall.
The compromise bill signed by Trump does include $1.3 billion for border security, including 55 miles of new barriers. But under Trump’s executive order he would take even more money than he previously sought – over $7 billion that he hopes to divert from military construction projects, combatting narcotics smuggling, and asset forfeitures.
The latter, money seized from criminals, is currently used to fund police and sheriff operations including substantial local funding in San Diego County. Fom 2004 to mid-2014,San Diego's Sheriff and District Attorney kept 80% of federal assets seized, or about $1.5 million a year, according to a records request by ECM, as we reported in October 2014.
Trump insists that the wall is needed to prevent human and drug trafficking across the U.S.-Mexico border, despite the fact that Drug Enforcement Agency reports the vast majority of drugs enter the U.S. through lawful ports of entry.
Critics point to the President’s own words to argue that the issue is not a true emergency. "I could do the wall over a longer period of time," Trump said in a speech given in the White House rose garden on Friday. "I didn’t need to do this. But I'd rather do it much faster.” He cited a need to combat what he calls an “invasion” of undocumented immigrants, suggesting many are “criminals.”
Border apprehensions are actually down 76% from a record high 19 years ago,according to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, however, and the number of undocumented immigrants is at its lowest since 2004, CBS news reports.
The action raises constitutional concerns. The Constitution gives funding power to Congress, not the president. Though past presidents have issued emergency declarations, none were made after Congress refused funding for the purported emergency purpose. Past emergencies largely focused on military or terrorism response, such as the 9-1-1 attacks.
Senate Democratic leaders and some Republicans in Congress have voiced concerns over the President’s actions, though some Republicans have defended Trump. House Speaker Pelosi warned that the declaration could set a precedent Republicans may not like if a future Democratic president decides to ignore Congress and declare an emergency to expend funds on a priority such as addressing gun violence. Congress could block the emergency declaration with a two-thirds veto-proof majority in both houses, though it’s unclear whether there are enough members willing to directly challenge the president’s authority.
Multiple lawsuits seek to stop the emergency declaration, including a suit being filed by California.” The state’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra stated on ABC’s The Week program, “It’s clear that this isn’t an emergency – it’s clear that in the mind of Donald Trump he needs to do something to try to fulfill a campaign promise.”
Three Texas landowners and the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, have also filed legal action challenging the emergency declaration in hopes of saving habitat including a national butterfly sanctuary slated for destruction if funds are provided for the wall via the emergency declaration.
Public Citizen has also filed suit, arguing that the action seeks to bypass the separation of powers mandated by the Constitution.
Ultimately, the matter may be decided by the Supreme Court, which now has a conservative majority including two justices appointed by President Trump.