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Federal judge blocks Trump from using $3.6 billion Pentagon funds for border wall

U.S. Border Patrol Agents at Border Field State Park in Imperial Beach watch over personnel that are reinforcing the border wall with concertina wire. (Mani Albrecht/U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
December 11, 2019

A federal judge in Texas has handed down another setback in President Donald Trump’s effort to build a wall along the border with Mexico on Tuesday.

Judge David Briones of the US District Court for the Western District of Texas has ruled the Trump administration cannot use military construction funds to build the wall, CNN reported.

The funds at stake in this latest legal setback include the $3.6 billion set out by Defense Secretary Mark Esper in September. The funds were set out to fund 11 border wall projects, totaling 175 miles of construction.

The $3.6 billion funding allotment is one of two funding allotments the Trump administration chose to divert to wall construction in a February national emergency declaration. Another $2.5 billion in Pentagon funds was also pulled in for wall funding and despite past legal challenges, the Supreme Court in July ruled those funds could be used for the prescribed wall construction.

The Trump administration had also diverted $600 million from an asset forfeiture program in the Treasury Department. Congress had also approved $1.375 billion in wall funding prior to Trump’s February declaration.

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El Paso County, Texas and Border Network for Human Rights have argued Trump overstepped his authority to declare a national emergency at the border in this latest legal challenge to the wall funding efforts. The two parties bringing the complaint forward have also argued Trump’s declaration doesn’t meet the National Emergencies Act’s guidelines for what constitutes an “emergency.”

They have also pushed back on Trump administration claims that border barriers have brought on a drop in crime in El Paso.

Briones, in his Tuesday ruling, handed down a permanent injunction against the wall construction, according to The Hill.

The judge also rejected a request for an administrative stay on the ruling.

“Defendants do not have compelling reasons justifying an administrative stay of this decision as they have requested, though they are free to pursue a stay pending appeal before the Fifth Circuit,” Briones said.

Wall construction – drawing from the $3.6 billion now in question – had already begun in September, just two days after Esper authorized the funds. It is not entirely clear what progress wall builders had achieved on the construction before the injunction hit.

Congress has voted on two separate occasions, in March and in September, to end the national emergency declaration. The latest effort passed congress with a vote of 236-174 against in the House of Representatives and a vote of 54-41 in the Senate. Lawmakers did not have the majority needed to override Trump’s veto of the effort to stop the declaration.