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States cite Trump’s own words in challenging national emergency declaration

A lawsuit filed by 16 states claims the president himself has said there is no basis for the move, except personal frustration.

Sixteen states, led by California, are challenging President Donald Trump over his decision to bypass Congress and enact a national emergency to build wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, citing the president's own words against him. (Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Sixteen states, led by California, are challenging President Donald Trump over his decision to bypass Congress and enact a national emergency to build wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, citing the president's own words against him. (Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Sixteen states, led by California, are challenging President Donald Trump over his decision to bypass Congress and enact a national emergency to build wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a lawsuit filed in San Francisco Federal District Court Monday, attorneys general from each state argued it would be unconstitutional for the president to build his wall because Congress is vested with the power of the purse and did not approve funds for one. Moreover, they claimed, Trump himself had downplayed the supposed crisis as nothing more than a personal frustration.

“Use of those additional federal funds for the construction of a border wall is contrary to Congress’s intent in violation of the U.S. Constitution […],” the attorneys general wrote. “Such use would divert counter-drug programming funds directed to the states, and military construction funds to be spent in the states, for the nonappropriated purpose of constructing a border wall. Even if the Administration could constitutionally redirect funds toward the construction of the border wall, the Administration does not satisfy the criteria in the statutes that it invokes to enable it to do so.”

Specifically, the attorneys general pointed to the president’s own words as proof the “emergency” at the border really wasn’t an emergency at all, quoting statements he made a Rose Garden press conference days earlier.

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“In explaining his rationale for the Executive Actions,” they wrote, “the President candidly admitted that the emergency declaration reflected his personal preference to construct the wall more quickly, rather than an actual urgent need for it to be built immediately: ‘I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster.'”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra reiterated this point in an interview with The New York Times Monday, saying, “Probably the best evidence [that there is no emergency at the border] is the president’s own words.”

The 16 attorneys general — who represent states including Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Virginia — also wrote that there was “no immigration enforcement ‘crisis’ or ‘invasion’ at Southern Border to support the Declaration of Emergency.”

To support their claim, they presented data from the federal government itself which showed the number of apprehensions of undocumented immigrants at the border was at its lowest in years.

Furthermore, the attorneys general argued there was “no evidence that terrorists are infiltrating the United States via the Southern Border,” as Trump and the Department of Homeland Security have claimed.

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“In fact, while over 2,500 individuals on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s terrorist watchlist attempted to travel to the United States in FY2017, the vast majority…attempted to do so by air,” the lawsuit states. “More generally, a 2018 State Department report finds that there is ‘no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.'”

The Trump administration is currently facing at least three lawsuits over the emergency declaration, which was formalized last week, including challenges from the Center for Biological Diversity and the D.C.-based think tank Public Citizen. The American Civil Liberties Union is also expected to file its own lawsuit this week.

Congressional lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have also voiced concerns about the supposed “emergency” at the border.

Newly elected Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ) spoke out against Trump’s emergency declaration Monday, saying it threatens $40 million worth of construction projects on an Air Force Base near Phoenix, as the administration would divert funding for those projects to build the border wall. As The Arizona Republic reported, the base is one of Phoenix’s “key economic engines.”

Similarly, Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), the only Republican representing a border district in Congress, told CBS News’ Face The Nation Sunday that he’s concerned with the seizure of private land that would be required to build the wall.

“In the great state of Texas, we care about a little thing called private property, and there’s going to be over 1,000 ranchers and farmers potentially impacted if the government comes in and takes their land,” Hurd said.