SAN FRANCISCO – On Friday, a federal judge barred President Donald Trump from building key sectors of his border with cash guaranteed under his national emergency declaration, delivering what may be a temporary setback on one of his top priorities.
District Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr.'s request prevents the work from starting with two of the Pentagon's top-priority projects – one covering 46 miles (74 kilometers) in New Mexico and another covering 5 miles (8 kilometers) in Yuma. Arizona.
While the request only applied to frontline bills, the judge made it clear that he believed competitors would likely prevail at trial, arguing that the president was mistakenly ignoring congressional wishes by diverting money from the Department of Defense.
"The absolute control of the Congress over federal spending – even when such control can thwart the Executive's wishes in relation to initiatives that it considers important – is not a mistake in our constitutional system. system, "he wrote. in his opinion of 56 pages.
It was not a complete defeat for the administration. Gilliam, nominated by President Barack Obama of Oakland, rejected a request from California and 19 other states to prevent the diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars into treasury asset seizure funds for the construction of walls, in part because it found it unlikely that prevailed. in arguments that management circumvented environmental impact reviews.
The delay may be temporary. The question for Gilliam was whether to allow construction with Defense and Treasury funds while actions brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and state attorneys general were being considered. Cases have yet to be heard on their merits.
"This order is a victory for our system of checks and balances, the rule of law and the border communities," said Dror Ladin, an ACLU attorney who represented the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
The government faces several lawsuits because of the emergency declaration, but just another quest to block construction during the legal challenge. A judge in Washington, D.C., on Thursday heard arguments about a challenge brought by the US House of Representatives that the transfer of money violates the constitution. The judge was assessing whether lawmakers would have the ability to sue the president, rather than working through political routes to resolve the bitter dispute.
At stake are billions of dollars that would allow Trump to progress into a signature campaign promise in his campaign for a second term.
Trump declared a national emergency in February after losing a fight with the House led by Democrats that led to a government stoppage for 35 days. As a compromise on border enforcement and immigration, Congress has set aside $ 1.375 billion to expand or replace existing barriers in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings.
Trump unwillingly accepted the money, but declared the national emergency to extract money from other government accounts, identifying up to $ 8.1 billion for the construction of walls. The funds include $ 3.6 billion of military construction funds, $ 2.5 billion in anti-drug activity from the Department of Defense, and $ 600 million from the Treasury Department's asset confiscation fund.
The Department of Defense has already transferred the money from the anti-drug drug. Patrick Shanahan, the acting Secretary of Defense, must decide at any time to transfer the military building funds.
Opponents of the president say the emergency declaration was an illegal attempt to ignore Congress, which authorized much less wall spending than Trump wanted. The administration said that Trump was protecting national security as unprecedented numbers of Central American families seeking asylum arrive on the American border.
The administration has awarded 11 wall contracts worth $ 2.76 billion – including three in the last two months spent on the Department of Defense – and is preparing for a flood of works the president is already holding at campaign-style rallies .
The Army Corps of Engineers recently announced several major contacts with Pentagon funding. Last month, SLSCO Ltd. of Galveston, Texas, won a $ 789 million prize to replace 46 miles (74 kilometers) of the New Mexico barrier – which Gilliam blocked on Friday.
Last week, Southwest Valley Constructors of Albuquerque, New Mexico, won a $ 646 million prize to replace 63 miles (101 kilometers) in the Tucson, Arizona Border Patrol sector that Gilliam did not stop. Barnard Construction Co. of Bozeman, Montana, won a $ 141.8 million contract to replace 8 kilometers in Yuma, which Gilliam blocked and 24 kilometers in El Centro, California, which he did not address.
Gilliam's decision gives the green light – at least for now – for the government to seize Treasury funds, which it plans to use to widen the barriers in the Rio Grande Valley.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat and frequent opponent of Trump, did not comment directly on his defeat, but he congratulated the ACLU and its clients "for securing this critical victory for our states and communities."
Trump inherited barriers covering 654 miles (1,046 kilometers), or about a third of the border with Mexico. Of the 244 miles (390 kilometers) in award winning contracts, more than half is with Pentagon money. All 22 miles granted so far replace existing barriers and do not extend coverage.
Spagat reported from San Diego.