DOD to Divert Billions to Build 175 Miles of Southern Border Wall
Coming off a recent Supreme Court victory over the use of military funds for southern border wall construction, the Defense Department announced plans to divert military funds into border wall projects.
The Pentagon announced Wednesday that 127 military construction projects, both overseas and in the U.S., will be deferred to free up $3.6 billion in funds for “construction or augmentation of barriers along 175 miles of the southern U.S. border.”
Defense Department (DOD) officials did not list which projects were being deferred but did state that family housing, dormitory and barracks projects were not being deferred, nor were projects already awarded or expected to be awarded in 2019.
Jonathan Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, told reporters that Homeland Security data shows that there is a dramatic drop in the number of resources needed to patrol an area where border barriers are completed.
Funds for the border barriers will come in two installments according to the DOD. The first $1.8 billion will come from deferred overseas projects and will be used in 11 border construction projects which will involve either strengthening existing barriers or building new ones where barriers don’t exist.
The DOD did not specify where the barrier projects were being built but did claim that the projects were being built on land owned by the DOD or another federal agency. Construction of barriers on DOD-owned land will likely begin within 130 to 145 days.
The second installment of $1.8 billion from deferred domestic military projects will only be made available if needed.
According to the Military Times, about 3,000 active duty and 2,000 National Guard troops are already deployed to the southern border helping the Department of Homeland Service with surveillance, detention of migrants and processing asylum requests.
Border Wall Funding Battles
Construction of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico was one of President Trump’s central campaign promises but he has been met with fierce opposition from concerned activists, rights organizations and from elected politicians who have refused to authorize funding for border wall construction.
Disagreement over funds for the construction of a border wall led to the longest government shutdown in history, a 35-day government shutdown from December 2018 to January 2019. The disagreement stemmed from Trump’s request for $5 billion to fund a border wall which House Democrats refused to fund, considering the request a waste of taxpayer money and an ineffective means to address issues at the southern border.
The shutdown ended after Congress granted him $1.4 billion in border funds, far less than $5.7 billion he was demanding.
In February, following the government shutdown, Trump declared a national emergency at the U.S. southern border in an attempt to access $8 billion in funds for the southern border wall.
In response, Congress successfully passed a resolution overturning Trump’s emergency declaration to which Trump responded by vetoing the congressional resolution. To overturn Trump’s veto, Congress needed to again pass the resolution to terminate Trump’s emergency declaration but by a higher voting margin, but Congress fell short of the two-thirds supermajority needed.
At least six separate lawsuits were filed in response to Trump’s emergency declaration. One of the lawsuits was filed by a coalition of twenty states challenging Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to fund the border wall, calling the act “unconstitutional” and a dangerous extension of unchecked presidential powers.
“California stands united against President Trump’s money-grab to fund his expensive and ineffective wall, which he promised would be paid for by Mexico,” California Gavin Newsom said in a statement at the time. “This funding should be spent as it was intended: to support local law enforcement agencies and to fight drug trafficking.”
Supreme Court Rules in Trump’s Favor
The DOD’s announcement on Wednesday to defer military funds into border wall projects comes after a big win for the Trump administration last July when a Supreme Court ruling granted the Trump administration the green light to go ahead and use military funds for border construction.
“Wow! Big VICTORY on the Wall. The United States Supreme Court overturns lower court injunction, allows Southern Border Wall to proceed. Big WIN for Border Security and the Rule of Law!” tweeted Trump after the verdict was announced.
The ACLU had brought the lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition who had challenged the use of military funds for border projects. Two lower courts, including an appeals court, had frozen $2.5 billion in DOD funds earmarked for the border wall while lawsuits pended, but the Supreme Court’s decision overruled the lower courts, freeing up the funds.
As Peter Castagno previously wrote for Citizen Truth, the Court ruled 5-4 along partisan lines, with Justice Ginsburg, Justice Sotomayor, and Justice Kagan rejecting the ruling, and Justice Breyer dissenting in part. The five conservative judges did not offer extensive legal reasoning for their decision, but wrote “the Government has made a sufficient showing at this stage that the plaintiffs have no cause of action to obtain review of the Acting Secretary’s compliance.”
The ACLU condemned the ruling and vowed to fight the Supreme Court decision.
“Border communities, the environment, and our Constitution’s separation of powers will be permanently harmed should Trump get away with pillaging military funds for a xenophobic border wall Congress denied,” said Dror Ladin, a staff attorney with the ACLU.
The $2.5 billion for the border wall freed up after the July Supreme Court ruling is in addition to the $3.6 billion from deferred DOD military construction projects.
Environmentalist groups have also filed lawsuits and sought to stop the border wall construction based on the ecological damage caused by erecting physical barriers across the land.
The advocacy group Public Citizen filed a lawsuit last February on behalf of three Texas landowners who were told the government would build the wall on their land if funds became available and the Frontera Audubon Society in response to Trump’s emergency declaration.
A July 2018 paper published in BioScience authored by two scientists and backed by 3000 more warned of the dire consequences to animals and terrain of building physical barriers through such ecologically interconnected and diverse areas as the U.S.-Mexico border region.
“Any substantial construction ordinarily forces populations to extinction directly by outright destruction of their habitat or by reducing population size or restricting access to critical areas required seasonally. Every time you see a strip mall, airport or housing development being constructed, you can be sure biodiversity is suffering. Many hundreds of miles of border wall and the accompanying construction and maintenance infrastructure would be a crime against biodiversity,” study author Paul Ehrlich said to the Stanford Report.