White House extends national emergency on the southern border
The notice comes nearly a year after Trump declared a national emergency in order to secure funding to build his signature wall. The move paved the way for Trump to unlock billions of dollars in federal funds to construct additional barriers on the southern border, bypassing Congress after lawmakers refused to meet his multi-billion-dollar fund request.
This is the first time the White House has renewed the emergency, which it plans to extend “beyond” February.
The extension allows the administration to continue dipping into Pentagon funds, which the administration is continuing to rely upon to complete hundreds of miles of wall.
On Thursday, Defense Department officials notified lawmakers that the department would divert $3.83 billion from various Pentagon accounts to fund border wall construction, according to a congressional aide familiar with the funding.
The move drew a quick rebuke from Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican who is the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee and has announced he will not run for reelection this year. He did not mention Trump by name but voiced strong opposition to the diverting of money from various Pentagon accounts for border wall construction, asserting the move is “contrary to Congress’s constitutional authority.”
While arrests on the southern border remain high, the situation along the border has changed from when Trump initially announced his national emergency declaration. In January, Border Patrol apprehended around 29,000 people at the southern border, compared to nearly 48,000 migrants in January of last year, according to US Customs and Border Protection data.
The notice submitted to the Federal Register acknowledges that while the executive branch has taken steps to address issues cited in the emergency, “further action is needed to address the humanitarian crisis and to control unlawful migration and the flow of narcotics and criminals across the southern border of the United States.”
“Thanks to President Trump’s leadership, we have made incredible progress addressing the security and humanitarian crisis at the border, compared to where we were at this time last year,” said acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf in a statement. “Arrests of individuals attempting to illegally cross the border declined in January for the eighth consecutive month and we continue to see stronger partnership with Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
But Wolf also said: “We are still experiencing an extremely high volume of apprehensions as well as the ongoing smuggling of drugs, weapons and people. The Department is grateful to President Trump for his continued commitment to addressing this crisis head-on and securing the homeland.”
Still, Trump’s national emergency declaration continues to face legal challenges. While lower courts have blocked the use of funds, some appellate courts have ruled in the administration’s favor. In January, for example, a federal appeals court allowed the administration to use a certain set of Defense Department funds for the construction of the border wall after a lower court blocked the administration from using them.
As of February 7, the administration has completed construction of approximately 119 miles — the majority of which has been replacing old barrier with new, enhanced wall systems, according to US Customs and Border Protection. Trump said at his State of the Union address last week that he intends to complete “over 500 miles” by early 2021.