Donald Trump will reallocate $6.5 billion from other government programs to pay for 234 miles of steel fencing along the southern border of the US to address what he officially has deemed a national emergency.
“We’re talking about an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs,” Trump said today (Feb. 15) during a rambling press conference in the White House Rose Garden.
Trump is diverting money from the Pentagon and the Treasury Department budgets that normally goes to local law enforcement to fight money laundering and drug trafficking, and to military construction projects, including housing for troops and their families.
Trump asserted that his move allows him to fulfill his 2016 campaign promise to build a wall on the border with Mexico, but seemed to undercut his own “emergency” declaration during the press conference. “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,” he said.
More than $6 billion will come from the Department of Defense, under a federal law that allows military funds to be diverted for other uses in certain instances. White House officials pointed to two specific parts of US Code Title 10, sections §284 and §2808.
Section 284 allows the diversion of defense funds in order to support civilian law enforcement in “counterdrug activities or activities to counter transnational organized crime.” Section 2808 gives the president “construction authority in the event of a declaration of war or national emergency.”
Trump said he declared a national emergency due to the flow of illegal immigrants into the US, which the president has described as a national security threat. (The Pentagon disagrees.)
“We haven’t been given the equipment” to fight the problem, Trump said.
The White House says $3.6 billion in barrier funding will come via Title 10’s section 2808, which allows the secretaries of all US military departments to “undertake military construction projects, not otherwise authorized by law that are necessary to support such use of the armed forces.” The money must come from funds that were already specifically designated for military construction, “including funds appropriated for family housing,” the law reads.
In cases where the military was planning to “fix or repair facilities, they might be able to wait for a few months or a year,” a senior White House official said.
Housing on US military bases is in terrible shape. Service members and their families are subjected to living conditions that include peeling lead paint, toxic mold, and vermin infestations, according to residents who testified on Capitol Hill this week.
“I would like to apologize for the horrible experiences,” assistant Navy secretary Phyllis Bayer said at the hearing. “It is evident where we and our housing partners didn’t always do what we were supposed to.”
Another $2.5 billion will come via Title 10’s section 284, which allows “military support for civilian law enforcement agencies.” In previous years, that money has gone to fund programs with local law enforcement training and support in Puerto Rico, a counter-drug training facility in St. Petersburg, Florida, and covert anti-drug operations in Columbia.
Defense funds can be diverted to pay for “construction of roads and fences and installation of lighting to block drug smuggling corridors across international boundaries of the United States,” the Title 10 section says.
Presumably, this could include 234 miles of barriers between the US and Mexico, although drug traffickers are not generally walking loads of narcotics through the desert and into the US on foot; 90% of all drugs entering the country in fact come through legal ports of entry, a fact Trump angrily refuted.
“It’s wrong,” he said when asked about the federal government’s own statistics. “It’s a lie, it is all a lie.”
To get to $8 billion total, White House officials say Trump also will take $600 million from the US Treasury Forfeiture Fund, which is made up of assets seized by law enforcement. Those assets in recent years have been directed to law enforcement, to improve their ability to conduct “high impact financial investigations,” and particularly “third party money laundering” investigations, a 2018 Treasury report explains (p. 7).
Another $1.4 billion will come through the congressional appropriations that will stave off another government shutdown. Trump added that Congress had allocated “so much money we don’t know what to do with it” for other aspects of border security.
“Far worse than one of his usual temper tantrums, the president is bypassing Congress and the rule of law to try to do what he pleases to fulfill his partisan campaign promises,” Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the Democrat who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. “This clearly violates the law. It must be repeated that there is no emergency to declare. The American people will not be fooled by this menacing and authoritarian action, and I hope both parties in Congress come together to quickly stop it.”
Republicans are also objecting to the move. Taking money from the military infrastructure fund would “undercut one of the most significant accomplishments of the last two years–beginning to repair and rebuild our military,” said Mac Thornberry of Texas, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, which authorizes the Pentagon’s budget.
Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s acting chief of staff, was careful to link the emergency-declaration spending plan directly to Trump in remarks he made prior to the president’s news conference. A total of $8 billion—which includes $1.4 billion in the bipartisan spending bill awaiting Trump’s signature—is “the amount that’s necessary in the president’s eyes,” to keep America safe, Mulvaney said.