Trump’s national emergency declaration triggers legal action

Texas landowners file legal challenge as president cites immigration as threat

US president Donald Trump said on Friday he will declare a national emergency at the US-Mexico border. Video: The White House


Democrats have vowed to pursue the Trump administration through the courts after the US president declared a national emergency over immigration.

Announcing his intention to invoke the full power of his executive authority in a televised speech from the White House Rose Garden on Friday, president Donald Trump confirmed he would access billions of dollars of federal money to build a barrier on the US border with Mexico.

“We’re talking about an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs,” he said.

Mr Trump also signed a spending Bill which averted a renewed US government shutdown and contains $1.375 billion (€1.2 billion) in funding for a Mexican border wall – well short of the €5.7 billion Mr Trump was seeking.

The building of a border wall with Mexico to curb immigration was a key promise of Mr Trump’s presidential election campaign in 2016. He repeatedly said Mexico would pay for the wall.

Within hours of declaring the emergency, the action was challenged in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Texas landowners, saying that Mr Trump’s declaration violates the US Constitution and that the planned wall would infringe on their property rights. The landowners, with property along the Rio Grande river, claimed they were informed the US government would seek to build a border wall on their properties if money for the project were available in 2019. The lawsuit, filed on their behalf by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, also named the Frontera Audubon Society as a plaintiff whose “members’ ability to observe wildlife will be impaired” by construction of a border wall and resulting habitat damage. The suit contests Mr Trump’s assertion of a national emergency at the border to justify the president’s action.

Both California and New York said that they, too, planned to file lawsuits. Hours after Trump’s announcement, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee said it had launched an investigation into the emergency declaration.

Executive actions

The president said on Friday he would source up to $6.6 billion in additional funds through executive actions, including by declaring a national emergency. The new funding would come by reallocating $600 million of the treasury department’s drug forfeiture programme, $2.5 billion from the department of defence’s anti-drugs programmes, and $3.5 billion in funds already approved by Congress for the military construction budget – a move that necessitated the declaration of a national emergency.

Though US presidents have declared national emergencies dozens of times since the introduction of the National Emergencies Act of 1976, typically they are invoked at moments of national crisis or on an issue where there is broad congressional support.

Then president Barack Obama declared the swine flu outbreak in 2009 a national emergency, giving enhanced powers to hospitals to respond rapidly to the crisis. George W Bush declared a national emergency in the days after the September 11th attacks.

Constitutional authorities

The audacious move by Mr Trump opens up a potential constitutional crisis, as Congress is supposed to have the authority to decide how funds are spent.

“The president is not above the law. The Congress cannot let the president shred the constitution,” said House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi and the top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, as they denounced the move. “Congress will defend our constitutional authorities.”

The move to declare a national emergency took even Republicans by surprise as the president had indicated during the week that he would stop short of doing so.

While the administration refrained from pulling disaster-relief funds already pencilled-in for California and Puerto Rico, the move to tap the defence budget is highly controversial. White House officials declined to specify which military construction projects would be affected by the funding moves, though they said they would target low-priority projects.

Administration officials estimate that 375km of border barrier will be constructed with the new funds, though the barrier will consist of bollard fencing rather than a concrete wall.–Additional reporting Reuters