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Trump declares national emergency to build US-Mexico border wall

US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order declaring national emergency in the nation. The move would unblock billions of dollars of federal money to construct a wall along the US-Mexico border.

Feb 18, 2019 14:12 IST
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US President Donald Trump on February 15, 2019 signed an executive order declaring national emergency in the nation. The move would unblock billions of dollars of federal money to construct a wall along the US-Mexico border.

Trump explained the move by saying that it was essential to prevent the country from "invasion" of illegal immigrants, drug dealers and criminal cartels. The move followed a rare show of cooperation between opposition parties when the US legislators reached a tentative deal on funding for border security to avoid another government shutdown that was due to start on February 16.

However, the budget for a wall along the Mexico border is far less than what President Donald Trump had demanded.

Border Issue: Background

Building a border wall on the US-Mexico border was one of the key promises made by Donald Trump during his 2016 election campaign.

Since then, the President has been faced with much opposition from the opposition parties over the funding of the wall.

  US President declares national emergency to build border wall

The disagreement over funding the wall on the border ended up in the longest government shutdown in the United States during December-January.

The shutdown left more than 800,000 government workers without pay. It only ended when Trump signed a deal on January 25 to give the Congress 21 days to come up with an agreement or face further blocking of funds.

New Agreement: Key Details

While, the details of the new agreement have not been officially released, according to reports, the US legislators agreed to settle for a figure of $1.4 billion to build border barriers, far below Trump’s demand of $5.7 billion.

The agreed amount is expected to finance just a quarter of more than 322 kms of the wall that Trump planned to build in 2019.

How will declaration of emergency help border wall funding?

Trump backed his decision of declaring a national emergency by saying that he has taken this path to speed up the process of building the wall. "I could do the wall over a long period of time. I didn't need to do this, but I would rather do it much faster," he said.

According to the White House, Trump administration has so far identified up to $8.1 billion that will be available to build the border wall once the national emergency is declared and additional funds have been reprogrammed.

This includes about $601 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund, up to $2.5 billion under the Department of Defence funds transferred for support for counter-drug activities and up to $3.6 billion reallocated from Department of Defence military construction projects.

The expected funds would be used to repair or build barriers along at least 376 kms of the border.

Criticism

In a joint statement, US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer declared Trump's declaration of emergency as unlawful. They claimed that he has declared a national emergency over a crisis that does not exist and it does great violence to the Constitution.

The opposition leaders stated that the move was plainly a power grab by a disappointed President, who has gone outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process.

According to Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, the decision not only jeopardises the safety of thousands of asylum seekers at the US southern border but also the integrity of US democracy.

Trump's opponents have already announced their intention to legally challenge it. The declaration is challenged in court by states and others who stand to lose federal money or claim that Trump is abusing his authority.

However, Trump exuded confidence that he will win the court battle.

Background

This is not the first time that a US President has ordered a national emergency for an issue that is conventionally considered as less important. 

Trump’s predecessors have used this provision of presidential powers multiple times in the past, even for issues that are less important than this.

Under the National Emergencies Act, since 1976, US presidents have declared nearly 60 national emergencies, as per a White House factsheet. As many as 31 of them are reportedly still in effect.

Former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, who became former president Barack Obama's Homeland Security Secretary, declared a state of emergency along the border in 2005.

Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson also declared a state of emergency at the border in 2005.

Former presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama also directed the use of the military to assist Homeland Security in securing and managing the southern border.

George W Bush declared a national emergency in 2001, which invoked reprogramming authority granted by Title 10 United States Code, section 2808, and both he and Obama used that authority a total of 18 times to fund projects between 2001 and 2014.

In total, according to past records, Bill Clinton is set to have declared 17 national emergencies, George W Bush 13 and Barack Obama 12, but nearly all were for crises that emerged overseas.

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